UN: Pollution is putting millions of lives at risk

Published On: March 15, 2019 10:00 PM NPT By: Agencies

The UN has published a comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment this week, warning that ecological damage to the planet is becoming so dire that millions of lives will soon be at risk unless urgent action is taken.

The report, which was produced by 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries, says that either humanity drastically scales up environmental protection, including climate protection, or cities and regions notably in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.

“The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment. “This report is an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now.”

According to the sixth Global Environmental Outlook, green investment to the tune of 2 per cent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term economic growth as high as presently projected but with far fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity and loss of ecosystems.The projection of a future ‘healthy planet with healthy people’ is based on a new way of thinking where the ‘grow now, clean up after’ model is revised to a near-zero-waste economy by 2050.

Innovative policy options required for a safer future

Policy interventions that address entire systems – such as energy, food, and waste – rather than individual issues, such as water pollution, can be much more effective, according to the authors. For example, a stable climate and clean air are interlinked; the climate mitigation actions for achieving the Paris Agreement targets would cost about USD 22 trillion, but the combined health benefits from reduced air pollution could amount to an additional USD 54 trillion.

The report also highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology and finance it needs to move towards a more sustainable development pathway, although sufficient support is still missing from the business and political leaders who are holding on to outdated production and development models.

The study for example advises adopting less-meat intensive diets, and reducing food waste in both developed and developing countries, would reduce the need to increase food production by 50 per cent to feed the projected 9-10 billion people on the planet in 2050. At present, 33 per cent of global edible food is wasted, and 56 per cent of waste happens in industrialized countries, the report states.

While urbanization is happening at an unprecedented level globally, the report says it can present an opportunity to increase citizens’ well-being while decreasing their environmental footprint through improved governance, land-use planning and green infrastructure. Furthermore, strategic investment in rural areas would reduce pressure for people to migrate.

The sixth Global Environmental Outlook was released while environmental ministers from around the world participated in the world’s highest-level environmental forum Nairobi. Talks at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly have been addressing critical issues such as stopping food waste, promoting the spread of electric mobility, and tackling the crisis of plastic pollution in our oceans, among many other pressing challenges.

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