UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for global action to stop “a senseless and suicidal war on nature” and address climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
“I want to be clear. Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive. For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises: climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution that threaten our viability as a species,” he told a press conference for the launch of a UN Environment Programme report, “Making Peace with Nature”.
“Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet. It’s time to re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature,” he said.
Human beings overexploiting the environment
Human beings are overexploiting and degrading the environment on land and sea. The atmosphere and the oceans have become dumping grounds for waste. Governments are still paying more to exploit nature than to protect it. Globally, countries spend some $4 trillion to $6 trillion a year on subsidies that damage the environment, he noted.
The interlinked climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises require urgent action from the whole of society — from governments, but also from international organizations, businesses, cities, and individuals, said Guterres.
The report shows that the global economy has grown nearly fivefold in the past five decades, but at a massive cost to the global environment, he said.
“The only answer is sustainable development that elevates the well-being of both people and the planet,” he said.
The new report points to many ways the world can accomplish this, he said. For example, governments can include natural capital in measures of economic performance and promote a circular economy. They can agree to not support the kind of agriculture that destroys or pollutes nature. They can put a price on carbon. They can shift subsidies from fossil fuels toward low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions.
“The bottom line is that we need to transform how we view and value nature. We must reflect nature’s true value in all our policies, plans and economic systems. With a new consciousness, we can direct investment into policies and activities that protect and restore nature and the rewards will be immense,” he said. “It’s time we learn to see nature as an ally that will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Make-it or break-it
This year “is a make-it or break-it year indeed because the risk of things becoming irreversible is gaining ground every year,” Guterres said. “We are close to the point of no return.”
The report highlighted what report co-author Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia called “a litany of frightening statistics that hasn’t really been brought together:”
Some of the key findings include
. Earth is on the way to an additional 3.5 degrees warming from now (1.9 degrees Celsius), far more than the international agreed upon goals in the Paris accord.
. About 9 million people a year die from pollution.
. About 1 million of Earth’s 8 million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction.
. Up to 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge, and other industrial waste are dumped into the world’s waters every year.
. More than 3 billion people are affected by land degradation, and only 15% of Earth’s wetlands remain intact.
. About 60% of fish stocks are fished at the maximum levels. There are more than 400 oxygen-depleted “dead zones” and marine plastics pollution has increased tenfold since 1980.
“In the end, it will hit us,” said biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who was a scientific advisor to the report. “It’s not what’s happening to elephants. It’s not what’s happening to climate or sea-level rise. It’s all going to impact us.”
The planet’s problems are so interconnected that they must be worked on together to be fixed right, Warren said. And many of the solutions, such as eliminating fossil fuel use, combat multiple problems including climate change and pollution, she said.
The report “makes it clear that there is no time for linear thinking or tackling problems one at a time,” said University of Michigan environment professor Rosina Bierbaum, who wasn’t part of the work.
In another break, this report gives specific solutions that it says must be taken.
This report uses the word “must” 56 times and “should” 37 times. There should be 100 more because the action is so crucial, said former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who wasn’t part of the report.
“Time has totally run out. That’s why the word `must’ is in there,” Figueres said.
The report calls for an end to fossil fuel use and says governments should not tax labor or production, but rather the use of resources that damages nature.
“Governments are still playing more to exploit nature than to protect it,” Guterres said. “Globally, countries spend some 4 to 6 trillion dollars a year on subsidies that damage the environment.”
Scientists should inform leaders about environmental risks “but their endorsement of specific public policies threatens to undermine the credibility of their science,” said former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, who founded the free-market climate think tank RepublicEn.org.
The report also tells nations to value nature in addition to the gross domestic product when calculating how an economy is doing.
Getting there means changes by individuals, governments, and business, but it doesn’t have to involve sacrifice, said UN Environment Programme Director Inger Andersen.