Human health in dire straits if urgent actions are not made to protect the environment
by UN Environment, agencies
13 Mar. 2019
The most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years was published today, warning that damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.
The report, which was produced by 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries, says that either we drastically scale up environmental protections, or cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.
It also warns that pollutants in our freshwater systems will see anti-microbial resistance become a major cause of death by 2050 and endocrine disruptors impact male and female fertility, as well as child neurodevelopment.
But the report highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology and finance it needs to move towards a more sustainable development pathway, although sufficient support is still missing from the public, business and political leaders who are clinging to outdated production and development models.
The sixth Global Environmental Outlook has been released while environmental ministers from around the world are in Nairobi to participate in the world’s highest-level environmental forum.
Negotiations at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly are expected to tackle critical issues such as stopping food waste, promoting the spread of electric mobility, and tackling the crisis of plastic pollution in our oceans, among many other pressing challenges.
“The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment.
“This report is an outlook for humanity. 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.”
The projection of a future healthy planet with healthy people is based on a new way of thinking where the ‘grow now, clean up after’ model is changed to a near-zero-waste economy by 2050.
According to the Outlook, green investment of 2 per cent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term growth as high as we presently projected but with fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity and loss of ecosystems.
At present the world is not on track to meet the SDGs by 2030 or 2050. Urgent action is required now as any delay in climate action increases the cost of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, or reversing our progress and at some point, will make them impossible.
The report advises adopting less-meat intensive diets, and reducing food waste in both developed and developing countries, would reduce the need to increase food production by 50% to feed the projected 9-10 billion people on the planet in 2050. At present, 33 per cent of global edible food is wasted, and 56 per cent of waste happens in industrialized countries, the report states.
While urbanization is happening at an unprecedented level globally, the report says it can present an opportunity to increase citizens’ well-being while decreasing their environmental footprint through improved governance, land-use planning and green infrastructure. Furthermore, strategic investment in rural areas would reduce pressure for people to migrate.
The report calls for action to curb the flow of the 8 million tons of plastic pollution going into oceans each year. While the issue has received increased attention in recent years, there is still no global agreement to tackle marine litter.
Policy interventions that address entire systems – such as energy, food, and waste – rather than individual issues, such as water pollution, can be much more effective, according to the authors.
For example, a stable climate and clean air are interlinked; the climate mitigation actions for achieving the Paris Agreement targets would cost about US$ 22 trillion overall, but the combined health benefits from reduced air pollution could amount to an additional US$ 54 trillion.
“The report shows that policies and technologies already exist to fashion new development pathways that will avoid these risks and lead to health and prosperity for all people,” said Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-chairs of the GEO-6 process.
“What is currently lacking is the political will to implement policies and technologies at a sufficient speed and scale. The fourth United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March needs to be the occasion when policymakers face up to the challenges and grasp the opportunities of a much brighter future for humanity.” http://bit.ly/2VXy9Sm
Sharp rise in Arctic temperatures now inevitable reports UN - Fiona Harvey reports for Guardian News
Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3C to 5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement, research has found.
Winter temperatures at the north pole are likely to rise by at least 3C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century, and there could be further rises to between 5C and 9C above the recent average for the region, according to the UN.
Such changes would result in rapidly melting ice and permafrost, leading to sea level rises and potentially to even more destructive levels of warming. Scientists fear Arctic heating could trigger a climate “tipping point” as melting permafrost releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, which in turn could create a runaway warming effect.
“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of UN Environment. “We have the science. Now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.”
The findings, presented at the UN Environment assembly in Nairobi, give a stark picture of one of the planet’s most sensitive regions and one that is key to the fate of the world’s climate.
Last year’s stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, setting out the dramatic impacts of 1.5C of global warming, did not include the impacts of potential tipping points such as melting permafrost.
If melting permafrost triggers a tipping point, the likely results would be global temperature rises well in excess of the 2C set as the limit of safety under the Paris agreement. Nearly half of Arctic permafrost could be lost even if global carbon emissions are held within the Paris agreement limits, according to the UN study.
Even if all carbon emissions were to be halted immediately, the Arctic region would still warm by more than 5C by the century’s end, compared with the baseline average from 1986 to 2005, according to the study from UN Environment.
That is because so much carbon has already been poured into the atmosphere. The oceans also have become vast stores of heat, the effect of which is being gradually revealed by changes at the poles and on global weather systems, and will continue to be felt for decades to come.
The assembly heard that there was still a need to fulfil the aims of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change and to take further action that could stave off some of the worst effects of warming in the near term.
“We need to make substantial near-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, black carbon and other so-called short-lived climate pollutants all over the world,” said Kimmo Tiilikainen, Finland’s environment minister. Making drastic cuts to black carbon and short-lived pollutants such as methane could reduce warming by more than 0.5C, according to previous research. http://bit.ly/2u4eMLD
* Stockholm Resilience Centre - Tipping points news: http://bit.ly/2O2YqMt http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-news/2018-12-20-contagious-collapses.html http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html
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Water supply of 2 billion people undermined by future global warming
by Philippus Wester
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, agencies
Feb. 2019 (ICIMOD, news agencies)
At least a third of the ice fields in Asia’s towering mountain chain are predicted to melt due to climate change, according to a landmark report, with serious consequences for almost 2 billion people.
Even if carbon emissions are dramatically and rapidly cut and succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5C, 36% of the glaciers along in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have gone by 2100. If emissions are not cut, the loss soars to two-thirds, the report found.
The glaciers are a critical water store for the 250 million people who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region, and 1.65 billion people rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China and other nations.
“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said Philippus Wester of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), who led the report. “In the best of possible worlds, if we get really ambitious [in tackling climate change], even then we will lose one-third of the glaciers and be in trouble. That for us was the shocking finding.”
Wester said that, despite being far more populous, the HKH region had received less attention than other places, such as low-lying island states and the Arctic, that are also highly vulnerable to global warming.
The new report, requested by the eight nations the mountains span, is intended to change that.
More than 200 scientists worked on the report over five years, with another 125 experts peer reviewing their work. Until recently the impact of climate change on the ice in the HKH region was uncertain, said Wester. “But we really do know enough now to take action, and action is urgently needed,” he added.
The region runs from Afghanistan to Myanmar and is the planet’s “third pole”, harbouring more ice than anywhere outside Arctic and Antarctica.
Limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels requires cutting emissions to zero by 2050. This is considered to be optimistic by many, but still sees a third of the ice lost, according to the report. If the global rise is 2C, half of the glaciers are projected to melt away by 2100.
Since the 1970s, about 15% of the ice in the region has disappeared as temperatures have risen. But the HKH range is 3,500km long and the impact of warming is variable. Some glaciers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are considered more stable, most probably due to increased cloud cover that shields the sun and changed winds that bring more snow. But even these will start melting with future warming, Wester said.
The melting glaciers will increase river flows through to 2050 to 2060, he said, pushing up the risk of high-altitude lakes bursting their banks and engulfing communities. But from the 2060s, river flows will go into decline. The Indus and central Asian rivers will be most affected. “Those areas will be hard hit,” said Wester.
Lower flows will cut the power from the hydrodams that generate much of the region’s electricity. But the most serious impact will be on farmers in the foothills and downstream. They rely on predictable water supplies to grow the crops that feed the nations in the mountains’ shadows.
But the changes to spring melting already appear to be causing the pre-monsoon river flow to fall just when farmers are planting their crops. Worse, said Wester, the monsoon is also becoming more erratic and prone to extreme downpours. “One-in-100 year floods are starting to happen every 50 years,” he said.
The new report highlights how vulnerable many mountain people are, with one-third living on less than $1.90 a day and far away from help if climate disaster strikes.
Political tensions between nations could add to the difficulties. “There are rocky times ahead for the region. Because many of the disasters and sudden changes will play out across country borders, conflict among the region’s countries could easily flare up,” said Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of Icimod.
Hamish Pritchard, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey and not part of the report, said it is “a substantial piece of work” that takes due note of the uncertainties resulting from the limited snowfall and ice measurements in the high mountains.
He said glaciers currently provide an essential buffering role as their meltwater flows into the rivers during the summer, which is when water is in greatest demand downstream and periodic droughts have the deadliest impacts on populations. “Take the ice away and those people are exposed to serious water stress and the consequences of that are local, regional and potentially global, in terms of conflict and migration,” he said.
* Access the report: http://bit.ly/2WJKs6b
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