The planet is increasingly unhealthy, and environmental degradation is responsible for a quarter of all deaths worldwide. The United Nations has sounded the alarm once again, on the occasion of the Fourth UN Environment Assembly taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, until March 15, where they presented the sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6) report.
If we really want to guarantee a dignified life for 10 billion people (the projected number of inhabitants of the Earth in just over 30 years), which the UN says is likely the “greatest challenge” in the history of humanity, we need to think that we are right now before a crossroads that will prove decisive for humanity’s future. The youth who will take to the streets worldwide Friday understand this very well. The GEO-6 report says we need to focus on radical changes in three areas: food, energy, and resource and waste management.
“The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment. … 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.” commented Msuya Joyce, the Acting Executive Director of UN Environment, regarding the findings of the report.
The sixth Global Environmental Outlook report is the result of the work of 250 scientists and experts from over 70 countries, and contains the most comprehensive and rigorous evaluation on the state of the environment over the past five years. The UN knows that the transformations necessary to change the current situation will not be easy, but there is simply no alternative. There is only one question to which we need to give an answer: “What are the future prospects for humanity?” Accordingly, we need to ask ourselves which steps are necessary to change the trajectory we are on.
The first among the main recommendations of the report concerns food waste. Thirty-three percent of all the world’s food is wasted, a common problem in both the northern hemisphere (where those responsible are both the retailers and us, the consumers) and the southern (where the “waste” often occurs as part of food processing, due to deficiencies in the plants or in the infrastructure).
The second central problem relates to electricity. While it is true that we are seeing a growth of the share of electricity produced from renewable sources, two-thirds of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels. Furthermore, even though the total volume of locally generated electricity has doubled since 1990, one billion people are not able to reliably turn on a lightbulb in their homes. We have to “decarbonize the energy supply,” according to the GEO-6.
The third issue is the abuse of natural resources. In 2017, according to estimates, humanity used well over 90 billion tons of resources, more than 50% of which were turned into waste or were lost in the process. Only 10% ended up as part of the virtuous circle of the renewable economy.
The three issues of agriculture, energy and resource utilization lead straight to the issue of climate change. According to the UN report, the actions needed to mitigate climate effects identified in the Paris Agreement—maintaining the average global temperature increase within 2 degrees, or, preferably, within 1.5 degrees Celsius—would cost approximately $22 billion dollars. But at the same time it would provide health benefits—arising from a reduction in air pollution—worth a total of $54 billion.
On Thursday, the Third One Planet Summit started in Nairobi, with the aim of raising financing for projects to fight climate change. The summit, organized by the UN, is attended by over 4,700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior officials of the United Nations and civil society representatives.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the summit. Italy is being represented by Environment Minister Sergio Costa. The theme is “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production.” According to the UN, our time is almost up: “We can achieve these targets,” said Deputy Secretary General of the UN Amina Mohammed in her speech, but only if we give priority to the health of the planet.
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