Make peace with nature now

In this file photo, extremely light traffic moves along the 110 Harbor Freeway toward downtown Los Angeles during a lockdown. New calculations released on December 10, 2020, show the world's carbon dioxide emissions plunged 7% in 2020 because of the pandemic lockdowns.   | Photo Credit: AP

As COVID-19 upends our lives, a more persistent crisis demands urgent action on a global scale. Three environmental crises — climate change; nature loss; and the pollution of air, soil and water — add up to a planetary emergency that will cause far more pain than COVID-19 in the long-term.

For years, scientists have detailed how humanity is degrading nature. Yet the actions governments, financial institutions, businesses and individuals are taking fall short of what is needed to protect current and future generations from a hothouse Earth, beset by mass species extinctions and poisonous air and water.

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In 2020, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that, despite a dip in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the pandemic, the world is still headed for global warming of more than 3°C this century. This month, the Dasgupta Review reminded us of what UNEP has long warned: the per capita stock of natural capital (the resources and services nature provides to humanity) has fallen by 40% in just over two decades. We already know that a staggering nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air.

Towards a sustainable future

Finding answers to such daunting problems is complex. But experts have developed solutions. To guide decision-makers towards the action required, the UN has released the Making Peace with Nature report. The report pulls together all the evidence of environmental decline from major global scientific assessments, with the most advanced ideas on how to reverse it. The result is a blueprint for a sustainable future that can secure human well-being on a healthy planet.

Our environmental, social and economic challenges are interlinked. They must be tackled together. For example, we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 if climate change and ecosystem collapse are undermining food and water supplies in the world’s poorest countries. We have no choice but to transform our economies and societies by valuing nature and putting its health at the heart of all our decisions. If we did this, banks and investors would stop financing fossil fuels. Governments would shift trillions of dollars in subsidies to nature-positive farming and clean energy and water. People would prioritise health and well-being over consumption and shrink their environmental footprint.

Comment | Harmonising with nature

What must be done?

There are signs of progress, but the problems are escalating faster than our responses. The number of countries promising to work towards net-zero emissions stands at 126. The ask is for all countries to deliver stretched nationally determined contributions ahead of the climate Conference of the Parties (COP) and immediately kickstart the transitions to net-zero. At the climate COP, governments must also finally agree on the rules for a global carbon trading market. The $100 billion that developed countries promised to provide every year to help developing nations cope with the impacts of climate change must finally flow.

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The ask is for us is to feed the world without destroying nature, felling forests and emptying our oceans. We can create an amazing economy by moving to circular economic systems that reuse resources, reduce emissions and weed out the chemicals and toxins that are causing millions of premature deaths – all while creating jobs. Addressing our planetary emergency is a whole-of-society effort. But governments must take the lead, starting with a smart and sustainable recovery from the pandemic that invests in the right places. They must create opportunities for future industries that generate prosperity. They must ensure that transitions are fair and equitable, creating jobs for those who lose out. They must give citizens a voice in these far-reaching decisions. This year, we must make peace with nature and, in every subsequent year, we must make sure that this peace lasts.

Inger Andersen is Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 8:25:17 PM |

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