Dramatic changes in society needed to tackle environmental crises, says UN

Dramatic changes in society needed to tackle environmental crises, says UN
Emissions from a coal-fired power plant (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Humans are making Earth a broken and increasingly unliveable planet through climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, a new United Nations report has said.

The document called Making Peace With Nature calls on the global community to make dramatic changes to society, economics and daily life.

Unlike past UN reports that focused on one issue and avoided telling leaders actions to take, this latest report combines three intertwined environment crises and tells the world what has got to change.

It calls for changing what governments tax, how nations value economic output, how power is generated, the way people get around, fish and farm, as well as what they eat.

Plastic bottles and other rubbish floats in the Potpecko lake in Serbia (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

“Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive,” secretary-general Antonio Guterres said.

“For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises.”

Sir Robert Watson, the report’s lead author, said: “Our children and their children will inherit a world of extreme weather events, sea level rise, a drastic loss of plants and animals, food and water insecurity and increasing likelihood of future pandemics.”

The scientist, who has chaired past UN science reports on climate change and biodiversity loss, added: “The emergency is in fact more profound than we thought only a few years ago.”

The report highlighted what co-author Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia called “a litany of frightening statistics that hasn’t really been brought together”.

The lakebed of Suesca lagoon in Colombia sits dry and cracked (Fernando Vergara/AP)

The statistics are:

– Earth is on the way to an additional 3.5 degrees warming from now (1.9C), far more than the international agreed upon goals in the Paris accord.
– About nine million people a year die from pollution.
– About one million of Earth’s eight 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 three 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.

Biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who was a scientific advisor to the report, said: “In the end it will hit us.

“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 were so interconnected that they must be worked on together to be fixed correctly, Ms Warren said.

And many of the solutions, such as eliminating fossil fuel use, combated 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”, University of Michigan environment professor Rosina Bierbaum said.

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