Statement prepared for delivery at the media launch of ‘Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies’.
This new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Making Peace with Nature, provides the most-compelling scientific case yet for why we must tackle the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste as one linked challenge. The report gathers the sum of knowledge from major scientific assessments to deliver one clear, unified message: we are destroying the planet, placing our own health and prosperity at grave risk.
The “net-zero club” of countries is growing. Yet, we are still on course for at least a 3°C temperature rise this century. There is greater awareness than ever of the impact of biodiversity loss on poverty reduction and human health. Yet, we have lost 10 per cent of forest cover since 1990. As the Secretary-General noted, the global economy has grown nearly five-fold. Yet, the stock of natural capital per person i.e. – world’s stocks of natural assets – geology, soil, air, water – in essence the building blocks of life – declined by nearly 40 per cent. Human ingenuity has increasedfood crop production 300 percent since 1970. Yet, fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced “dead zones,” greater than the size of the United Kingdom.
The environmental emergencies that I outlined above all flow directly from humanity’s overconsumption of resources, overproduction of waste and prioritization of short-term gain – with the consequence of long-term pain.
But all is not lost. The report also lays out how ambitious and coordinated action by governments, businesses and people can restore the planet to health. Human initiative, technology and cooperation can transform societies and economies – through shifts in key sectors like energy, water and food, and support for alternative livelihoods and new business models.
The report tells us that economic and financial systems can power the shift to sustainability. Governments can put a price on carbon and redirect trillions of dollars in harmful annual subsidies to low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions. Investors and businesses can back solutions and technologies that help to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and provide healthy bottom lines in the process. All three can place the value of nature at the heart of decision-making by employing natural capital accounting.
Crucially, we can achieve rapid progress by addressing the three crises together. Meeting the Paris Agreement requires rapid transformations in energy systems, land use, agriculture, forest protection, urban development, infrastructure and lifestyles – all of which have positive impacts for nature and our efforts to reduce pollution. Quickly reducing greenhouse gas emissions will also make it easier and cheaper for vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change.
By fully implementing international conventions that touch on chemicals, waste and climate change, we can save millions of lives each year through reduced pollution, and protect fragile ecosystems. Private citizens can also play their part – by changing their diets and travel habits, reducing their consumption of water and energy, and exercising their civic rights.
This year, our will to act must match up with the science in this report – which would not have been possible without the much-appreciated support of the European Union and the Norwegian Environment Agency.
We must use this report as a guide to embark on a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. To make strong and meaningful commitments at the climate, biodiversity and pollution COPS. To follow up with immediate action because there are no back-up plans for a planet in emergency. To redesign our economies and ensure a just transition for all.
There is indeed no precedent for what we must do, but if 2020 was a disaster, 2021 can and must be the year humanity began making peace with nature and secured a fair, just and sustainable future for everyone.
- Making Peace With Nature (Full Report pdf) | The first UNEP synthesis report is titled: “Making Peace With Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” and is based on evidence from global environmental assessments.