UN Report Says It’s Not too Late to Avert ‘Ecological Foundation’ Collapse

A new UN report links 25 percent of deaths worldwide to pollution and environmental damage that is a direct result of human activity.

The sixth “Global Environment Outlook” is the work of 250 scientists and environmental experts from across 70 countries and updates findings since the last edition came out in 2012.

“The science is clear,” Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of U.N. Environment, told CNN. “The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our 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.”

The report highlights how both outdoor and indoor fumes and pollution cause between six million and seven million deaths every year and creates a $5 trillion loss thanks to things like lost work hours and healthcare costs. In addition, around 1.4 million people die because of water pollution.

The report also finds that nearly all coastal cities now appear to be at risk as a result of rising sea levels that make storm surges and broader weather phenomena harder to handle.

Habitat loss and biodiversity collapse is also happening at an increasingly alarming rate, with global species populations falling between 1970 and 2014 by an average of 60 percent. Among invertebrates the impact has been particularly devastating, with 42 percent of land dwellers, just over a third of freshwater species and a quarter of marine species now at risk of extinction. This data corroborates other stark warnings that species decline is accelerating and that we are now in a new mass extinction period.

The report also finds that the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, and in terms of mortality rates this growing disparity reinforces inequity and drives up disease. There are over 100 diseases that appear to be on the increase that will elevate mortality rates as our climate alters and those pressures make more of themselves.

It’s Not Too Late to Act

Despite these dire warnings, the report does highlight a number of reasons to be optimistic.

For one thing, the pace of technological innovation over the last few decades has been truly astounding. While we cannot rely on technology to solve all our climate problems, we can reasonably expect that with proper funding such technologies could help solve some of the problems that industrialization has created, such as the massive amounts of waste we are creating every year.

We know that there are already innovations in the works that could help clear plastics from our oceans and clean up dangerous oil spills. Innovations like these can help us reverse the harm we have done in our environment and help us claw back some control over the state of our planet.

Another area the report is keen to highlight is how environmental responsibility is now becoming economically attractive for many nations, particularly for developing and booming economies like China and India. While these nations have been heavily (and perhaps rightly) criticized for their use of fossil fuels to spur growth, they are also among nations leading in areas like solar energy farms and reforestation efforts.

The pressure to avert catastrophic climate change has become more and more of a focus for companies, thanks to governments rewriting the playbook on what businesses can get away with. This is causing the markets to shift toward sustainability—for example by national funds deciding to divest from oil and gas.

The researchers stress that the world actually has all the tools it needs to make a meaningful impact on climate change right now. From decoupling economic growth from fossil fuels to toughening restrictions on land use and using international pressure to enforce protection where needed, we have the capacity to safeguard habitats and rescue endangered species from the brink. For example, the report notes that by investing just two percent of national GDP in environmental innovation and oversight would allow economic growth to continue while helping us mitigate problems like habitat loss and water pollution.

The report highlights that while the Paris Climate Agreement focuses on environmental policy, there are no equivalent agreements at the national level that specifically take on things like habitat degradation. This is an area where we could make meaningful change with minimal investment.

At its heart the report repeats what other analyses have already said: We have the power to act on climate change to prevent the worst outcomes from becoming our reality. The question now is why aren’t our politicians hearing that simple truth, and why aren’t they acting?

Photo credit: Getty Images.

40 comments

heather g
heather g23 days ago

Where is that island of environmentalists in the Southern Ocean to where I can escape.

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PANDA B
David Cabout a month ago

thanks

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David C
David Cabout a month ago

Don't give up...…..can the no named owl avatar please reference their claim about Al Gore's quote ……….need motivation, fewer people, less consumption, safer energy sources.....would be easier to prevent than react, but appears it maybe reaction that will have to save life...there is no planet b for life, Earth is all we have

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Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a month ago

What idiot wrote that last comment about "Al Gore"

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.about a month ago

Al Gore said we would be dead on January 27, 2016 on January 27, 2006, but here we are still 3 years later. He just wants the excess population dead so his children can rule the world.

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Elisabeth T
Elisabeth Tabout a month ago

Doesn't look too good for our planet.

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Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine Andersenabout a month ago

l like to think that if we can save this planet for our grandchildren but I am not so sure anymore too many people who either don't believe this planet is dying or just don't care. Thanks for sharing.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

too many people

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

too much money in fossil fuel

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

slash and burn, crop and move on, only works with tiny numbers of people

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