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UNEP plan seeks way out of nature crisis

In a new major report, the U.N. Environment Program recommended a "scientific blueprint" for governments to tackle three environmental crises at once.

A hiker on Romania's Ciucaș Peak
A hiker on Romania's Ciucaș Peak (AN/David Marcu)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AN) — In a new major report, the U.N. Environment Program recommended a "scientific blueprint" on Thursday for governments to tackle three crises — biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution — at once through a combined strategy.

For the planet to remain habitable, governments must make sweeping changes to their agricultural, economic, energy, tax and transportation policies, according to UNEP's 168-page report entitled "Making Peace with Nature."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen released the report ahead of the U.N. Environment Assembly's two-day virtual meeting next week. The 193-nation assembly is the world's highest-level decision-making body on the environment.

"Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive. For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises: climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution that threaten our viability as a species," Guterres told a news conference.

"They are caused by unsustainable production and consumption," he said. "Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet. It’s time to re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature. This report can help us do so."

The report laid out the many challenges facing our planet: among them, an economy that sapped natural resources as it grew fivefold over half a century; a trajectory of 3 degrees Celsius in global warming this century; and 1 million of Earth's 8 million plant and animal species at risk of extinction.

And women comprise 80% of those displaced by climate change, the report noted, while children make up most of the 1.8 million people who die each year from polluted water. Some 9 million people a year die prematurely from pollution.

'One linked challenge'

Among the recommended policy changes are for governments to adopt economic indices that include environmental impacts as a cost of doing business and for banks and other financial institutions to reduce lending for fossil fuel-based projects.

People are encouraged to minimize their own impacts by cutting back on their uses of non-essential resources, adopting healthier diets and lifestyles, and conserving their uses of energy, food and water.

The U.N. Environment Assembly, in its fifth session since 2014, will feature "an interactive high-level discussion on the contribution of the environmental dimension of sustainable development to building a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world," according to a concept note.

Delegates may adopt a consensual statement based on environment ministers' key messages to the assembly, which also will commemorate Nairobi-based UNEP's 50th anniversary.

Andersen said the scientific case for treating climate, nature and pollution as "one linked challenge" is based on humanity’s overconsumption of resources, overproduction of waste, and prioritization of short-term gain that, inevitably, results in long-term pain.

"But all is not lost. The report also lays out how ambitious and coordinated actions by governments, businesses and people can restore the planet to health," she said. "Human initiative, technology and cooperation can transform societies and economies — through shifts in sectors like energy, water and food, and support for alternative livelihoods and new business models."