Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

The UN calls for unprecedented changes to avoid the environmental catastrophe of the planet | Society

The UN calls for unprecedented changes to avoid the environmental catastrophe of the planet | Society


Source: UN.

The environmental crisis to which the unsustainable model of development of the human being has led to the Earth has troubling faces. The threatening and transversal climate change, the dramatic loss of biodiversity, the drastic reduction of available fresh water, the deadly air pollution, the flooding of plastics in the seas and oceans, overfishing ... The Department of the Environment of the United Nations (UNEP) has radiographed the main environmental problems of the planet based on the available scientific knowledge. The conclusions of the extensive report - 740 pages - Outlook for the Global Environment (GEO, its acronym in English) presented on Wednesday are disturbing. They are because of what is already happening to the planet (with 7.5 billion inhabitants on Earth) and what may happen in the near future (by 2050 the UN expects to be 10 billion and, by 2100, 11,000).

Humanity is not on track to meet the goals set for 2030 and 2050 in the various international agreements on climate change, sustainable development and environmental protection. "Urgent measures are now required," says the UN. The report - the sixth that is made, the first one dates from 1997 - maintains that, although in some concrete points there is some improvement, since the first edition was published more than 20 years ago "the general state of the environment has continued to deteriorate in all the world". According to the analysis, the efforts of some countries and regions are hampered by models of "unsustainable production and consumption" and by climate change.

"It is necessary to take urgent measures on an unprecedented scale to halt and reverse this situation and thus protect human and environmental health," the report concludes. The positive part is that we know the measures that have to be taken and that are even included in international treaties such as the Paris Agreement or the calls Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We must stop the loss of biodiversity and air pollution, improve water and resource management, mitigate climate change and adapt to it, use resources efficiently ...

But the most negative is that the different scientific studies analyzed point to the fact that countries are not moving in that direction. The sixth edition of the GEO warns that the projections indicate "that the advances are too slow to reach the goals, or that they even progress in the wrong direction".

Therefore, if the drastic changes indicated do not occur, the objectives will be violated established in the Paris Agreement against climate change and the SDGs. "The constant inability to take urgent action is having sustained and potentially irreversible negative impacts on essential environmental resources and human health," says the report, prepared by 250 scientists and experts from 70 countries.

The study was presented this Wednesday, coinciding with the Assembly of the United Nations for the Environment that is celebrated in Nairobi (Kenya), from where it is hoped that some concrete agreement can be released, for example, for the reduction of the consumption of plastics. The representatives of the States that sit down to negotiate will have on the table this x-ray of the environmental crisis of the planet:

Climate change. At risk of breaking the Paris Agreement.

The problem of climate change -For many experts, the great challenge of humanity for this century- runs across the entire UN report. "Climate change alters weather patterns, which in turn has a broad and profound effect on the environment, economy and society, which endangers livelihoods, health, water, food security and energy of the populations ", explains the United Nations. And this, in turn, "exacerbates poverty, migration, forced displacement and conflict," he adds.


In number

one. Extreme temperatures, droughts and forest fires.
Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
Tropical storms, extratropical storms, convective storms or local storms.
Floods or mass movements.

Source: Munich Re (2017).

"The evidence of current climate change is unequivocal," experts say. "Since 1880, the average temperature of the world surface has increased between 0.8 and 1.2 degrees Celsius, and in the last decade there have been eight of the 10 warmest years of record," the report summarizes. The UNEP experts, in line with what the IPCC already pointed out, warns: "if greenhouse gas emissions persist, the average global temperature will continue to increase at the current rate and will exceed the Paris Agreement goal between 2030 and 2052", that is, it will exceed the 1.5 degree average increase .

To comply with Paris, the report recalls, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced between 40% and 70% between 2010 and 2050. By 2070, they must simply be zero. But, according to the experts, compliance with the Paris Agreement will be more profitable for the world economy than not doing so. Reaching the goal of the 2 degrees will cost 22 trillion dollars (19.5 trillion euros), but "it is estimated that the global health savings -by reducing the deaths and diseases related to fuel pollution fossils - if that goal is met "would amount to about 54 billion dollars (47.8 billion euros)".

Air pollution. Between six and seven million premature deaths.

"Air pollution is the main environmental factor that contributes to the global burden of morbidity, "says the sixth edition of the GEO," It causes between six and seven million premature deaths "per year, in addition to" annual losses in welfare estimated at 5 billion dollars "(4, 4 trillion euros) The report points out that, in 2016, 95% of the planet's population lived in areas with exposure levels to fine particles (those less than 2.5 microns in diameter and the most dangerous ) above what is recommended by the World Health Organization.

And the UN also warns that "the economic impacts of loss of life, the increase in health care and the loss of productivity of workers due to air pollution is considerable". The report recalls that the World Bank estimated in 5.1 trillion dollars (4.5 trillion euros) the losses caused by premature deaths related to pollution. "The equivalent of Japan's GDP in 2013," the study adds.

The UN report directly links air pollution to climate change. The solutions for both problems are in the same place, in the elimination of fossil fuels responsible for greenhouse gases and the main atmospheric pollutants.

Biodiversity Overexploitation and loss of habitats.

Biodiversity - a variety of living beings, species and ecosystems - is also in crisis. It faces an unequal struggle dominated by soil transformation, habitat loss and degradation, unsustainable agricultural practices, the spread of invasive species, pollution and overexploitation. In this list, the UN includes illegal logging and illicit trade in wild species, a lucrative business that moves between 90,000 and 270,000 million dollars a year (between 80,000 and 240,000 million euros). The rulers and their policies have not been up to the task of tackling a deterioration that continues, because, although an advance is appreciated, "greater efforts are required to achieve international objectives."


In 2018. Maritime and coastal (in blue) and terrestrial (in green)

UNEP-WCMC and IUCN with contributions from Esri, Garmin, GEBCO, NOAA NGDC and others

The prevailing lack of control has triggered a significant decline in species populations. At present, it is considered that 42% of terrestrial invertebrates, 34% of freshwater invertebrates and 25% of marine invertebrates are at risk of extinction. Terrestrial vertebrates do not fare much better, between 1970 and 2014 the abundance of their world populations fell by an average of 60%. The genetic diversity, essential to maintain both the wild life and the variety of grains and animal breeds, points to the downside and opens the door to the threat to food security, given that this scenario affects "disproportionately" people poorest, women and children. "The livelihoods of 70% of people living in poverty depend directly on natural resources," says the report.

The ecosystems drag a similar decrease. Of every 14 terrestrial habitats, 10 have experienced a decrease in the productivity of the vegetation and half of the ecoregions are in an unfavorable conservation situation. As clear examples, the UN points out the collapse of the Aral Sea or the knotty moss forests on Lord Howe Island (Australia) and the forests of Gonakier (Senegal and Mauritania), in critical danger. Protected areas do not reach 15% of terrestrial habitats, including inland waters, and 16% of coastal and marine zones within national jurisdictions.

Oceans and coasts. 75% of marine waste is plastic.

The main enemies of oceans and coasts are global warming, acidification of water (by the capture of COtwo), marine pollution with plastics in first place and their increasing use for food production, together with transport, settlements and resource extraction. Marine ecosystems such as coral reefs are being devastated and face a massive discoloration caused by the chronic heat that already affects 70% of these surfaces in the world. The Great Australian Barrier Reef it is one of the most affected with more than 50% of its affected area, while mangroves have lost between 20% and 35% of their range since 1980. The value of coral reefs is estimated at 29,000 million of annual dollars (25,700 million euros), due to its impact on fisheries, tourism, health and marine habitats. The situation is so serious that the UN maintains that governments must prepare for "a drastic reduction, if not a collapse" of industries and services based on these ecosystems.

To all this is added the marine garbage, composed 75% by plastics and microplastics that roam without control and at any depth by the seas. Every year, remember the report, eight million tons of plastic materials end up in the oceans. And, in turn, it isPlastics give off toxic substances that accumulate in the marine fauna and that can reach man "affecting male and female fertility, as well as child neurological development".

If no action is taken, the scientists warn, there is a great risk that all the factors that cause the deterioration of marine ecosystems will be combined to produce a "destructive cycle" that will cause the oceans to stop providing vital services such as livelihoods. income or health benefits.

Sweet water. Competition between human consumption and agriculture.

The reduction of the availability of fresh water together with its poor conditions increases competition for this resource, says the UN report. "Water quality has worsened significantly since 1990, due to organic and chemical pollution caused by, among others, pathogens, fertilizers, pesticides, sediments, heavy metals, plastic waste and microplastics." In addition, one in every three inhabitants of the world "does not yet have access to adequate sanitation services".


Year 2015. About the total, in%

Source: UN with data from FAO.

Regarding the quantity available, the analysis points out that "agriculture uses an average of 70% of the freshwater resources" of the world. But in many of the poorest countries, "that number reaches 90%." The UN urges to improve "the efficiency of water use in agriculture and, at the same time, produce more food and use less inputs". "Many aquifers are being rapidly depleted by excess water extraction for irrigation, drinking water consumption and uses in industry and mining," says the GEO.

The situation of the wetlands is also worrisome and warns that since 40% of these ecosystems have disappeared since 1970, which are key in the fight against climate change. And it blames the development of agriculture, urbanization, infrastructures and the excessive exploitation of water resources.

Soil. Desertification threatens the most depressed areas

The UN considers that land degradation is likely to worsen as long as there is no policy framework for national and international management, which could accelerate migration in some regions. It is estimated that by 2050 some 4 billion people will live on desertified lands, especially in depressed regions of Africa or South Asia. Deforestation, which has slowed somewhat but it continues advancing, it is presented as another of the main challenges, together with the urban agglomerations, which in 2015 represented 7% of the world's land surface.

Agriculture and livestock represent one of the main impacts. The obtaining of foods uses 50% of the inhabitable earth and 77% of the agricultural zones are destined to the production of fodder, the pastures and the grazing for the production of meat. To feed the 10 billion people expected to populate the world by 2050, a 50% increase in food production will be needed. Currently, 33% of food is lost or wasted, especially in developed countries. The report advises adopting diets with less meat consumption and reducing those wastes. There are also opportunities that "could generate benefits for the multi-billion dollar ecosystem", as long as land management is modified and carbon stored, pollution reduced or erosion controlled.

The environmental crisis in figures

Climate change. Since 1880 the average temperature of the world surface has increased between 0.8 and 1.2 degrees Celsius. In the last decade, eight of the 10 warmest years of record have been recorded. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced between 40% and 70% between 2010 and 2050 to comply with the Paris Agreement and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Air pollution. This pollution causes between six and seven million premature deaths per year. 95% of the planet's population resides in areas with fine particle levels higher than those recommended by the WHO.

Biodiversity. Protected areas do not reach 15% of terrestrial habitats and 16% of coastal and marine zones. 42% of terrestrial invertebrates, 34% of freshwater invertebrates and 25% of marine invertebrates are at risk of extinction.

Oceans 50% of the Great Australian Barrier Reef is damaged by the increase in temperature, while mangroves have lost between 20% and 35% of their range since 1980. Each year, eight million tons of plastics they end up in the oceans.

Sweet water. Since 1970, 40% of the world's wetlands have disappeared. They are key ecosystems in the fight against change climate.

Agriculture and land uses. In 2050 some 4 billion people will live in desertified lands. Deforestation, which has slowed somewhat but continues to advance in the world. And 33% of food is lost or wasted, especially in developed countries.


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