People's Stories Environment

Action to protect people and nature is more urgent than ever
by UNEP, SEI, IISD, WMO, agencies
Nov. 2023
Fossil Fuel production plans vastly exceed the World’s Climate Goals: ‘Throwing Humanity’s Future into Question’ (UNEP, SEI, IISD, agencies)
The world’s top fossil-fuel producing nations are still planning to increase their output of oil, gas and coal far beyond what the world’s climate targets would allow, according to the Production Gap Report released by the United Nations.
The findings reveal a ever widening gap between the emissions-cutting pledges nations have made and their continued policies to promote fossil fuel production.
Even as a majority of countries have adopted net-zero pledges to cut their climate emissions, their own plans and projections put them on track to extract more than twice the level of fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and nearly 70 percent more than would be consistent with 2 degrees Celsius of warming, according to the report issued by the U.N. Environment Program.
Scientists say that beyond 1.5 degrees of warming, more extreme and dangerous changes to planetary systems become increasingly certain.
This “production gap” between planned output and climate goals is a warning, the report underlines, noting that the transition away from fossil fuels remains way off-course.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the findings “a startling indictment of runaway climate carelessness.”
Inger Andersen, the executive director of U.N. Environment Program, said that “governments’ plans to expand fossil fuel production are undermining the energy transition needed to achieve net-zero emissions, throwing humanity’s future into question.”
The 2023 Production Gap Report: “Phasing down or phasing up? Top fossil fuel producers plan even more extraction despite climate promises” is produced by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Climate Analytics, E3G, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
It assesses governments’ planned and projected production of coal, oil, and gas against global levels consistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.
“Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and the planet,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence. The upcoming climate conference COP28 must send a clear signal that the fossil fuel age is out of gas — that its end is inevitable. We need credible commitments to ramp up renewables, phase out fossil fuels, and boost energy efficiency, while ensuring a just, equitable transition.”
July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded, and likely the hottest for the past 120,000 years, according to climate scientists. Across the globe, deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are costing lives and livelihoods, making clear that human-induced climate change is here. Global carbon dioxide emissions — almost 90% of which come from fossil fuels — rose to record highs in 2021–2022. 
The 2023 Production Gap Report offers newly expanded country profiles for 20 major fossil-fuel-producing countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. These profiles reveal that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy and financial support for fossil fuel production.
“We find that many governments are promoting fossil gas as an essential ‘transition’ fuel but with no apparent plans to transition away from it later,” says Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and SEI scientist. “But science says we must reduce global coal, oil, and gas production and use now — along with scaling up clean energy, reducing methane emissions from all sources, and other climate actions — to keep the 1.5°C goal alive.”
"The writing’s on the wall for fossil fuels. By mid-century we need to have consigned coal to the history books, and cut oil and gas production by at least three quarters. Yet despite their climate promises, governments plan on ploughing yet more money into a dirty, dying industry, while opportunities abound in a flourishing clean energy sector. On top of economic insanity, it is a climate disaster of our own making.” – Neil Grant, Climate and Energy Analyst, Climate Analytics
"Despite governments around the world signing up to ambitious net zero targets, global coal, oil and gas production are all still increasing while planned reductions are nowhere near enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This widening gulf between governments' rhetoric and their actions is not only undermining their authority but increasing the risk to us all. We are already on track this decade to produce 460% more coal, 82% more gas, and 29% more oil than would be in line with the 1.5°C warming target. Ahead of COP28, governments must look to dramatically increase transparency about how they will hit emissions targets and bring in legally binding measures to support these aims." – Angela Picciariello, Senior Researcher, IISD
Nov. 2023
Adaptation Gap Report 2023: Underfinanced. Underprepared - Inadequate investment and planning on climate adaptation leaves world exposed - UN Environment Programme
Progress on climate adaptation is slowing on all fronts when it should be accelerating to catch up with rising climate change impacts and risks, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.
The Adaptation Gap Report 2023 finds that the adaptation finance needs of developing countries are 10-18 times as big as international public finance flows – over 50 per cent higher than the previous range estimate.
"Today’s Adaptation Gap Report shows a growing divide between need and action when it comes to protecting people from climate extremes. Action to protect people and nature is more pressing than ever," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his message on the report. “Lives and livelihoods are being lost and destroyed, with the vulnerable suffering the most.”
"We are in an adaptation emergency. We must act like it. And take steps to close the adaptation gap, now," he added.
As a result of the growing adaptation finance needs and faltering flows, the current adaptation finance gap is now estimated to be US$194-366 billion per year. At the same time, adaptation planning and implementation appear to be plateauing. This failure to adapt has massive implications for losses and damages, particularly for the most vulnerable.
“In 2023, climate change yet again became more disruptive and deadly: temperature records toppled, while storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires caused devastation,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “These intensifying impacts tell us that the world must urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase adaptation efforts to protect vulnerable populations. Neither is happening.”
“Even if the international community were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases today, climate disruption would take decades to dissipate,” she added. “So, I urge policymakers to take heed of the Adaptation Gap Report, step up finance and make COP28 the moment that the world committed fully to protecting low-income countries and disadvantaged groups from damaging climate impacts.”
Finance, planning and implementation waning
The modelled costs of adaptation in developing countries are estimated at US$215 billion per year this decade and are projected to rise significantly by 2050. The adaptation finance needed to implement domestic adaptation priorities, based on extrapolation of costed Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans to all developing countries, is estimated at US$387 billion per year.
Despite these needs, public multilateral and bilateral adaptation finance flows to developing countries declined by 15 per cent to US$21 billion in 2021. This dip comes despite pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow to deliver around US$40 billion per year in adaptation finance support by 2025 and sets a worrying precedent.
While five out of six countries have at least one national adaptation planning instrument, progress to reach full global coverage is slowing. And the number of adaptation actions supported through international climate funds has stagnated for the past decade.
Ambitious adaptation can enhance resilience – which is particularly important for low-income countries and disadvantaged groups – and head off losses and damages.
The report points to a study indicating that the 55 most climate-vulnerable economies alone have experienced losses and damages of more than US$500 billion in the last two decades. These costs will rise steeply in the coming decades, particularly in the absence of forceful mitigation and adaptation.
Studies indicate that every billion invested in adaptation against coastal flooding leads to a US$14 billion reduction in economic damages. Meanwhile, US$16 billion per year invested in agriculture would prevent approximately 78 million people from starving or chronic hunger because of climate impacts.
However, neither the goal of doubling 2019 international finance flows to developing countries by 2025 nor a possible New Collective Quantified Goal for 2030 will significantly close the adaptation finance gap on their own and deliver such benefits.
The report identifies a number of ways to increasing financing, including through implementation of Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement on shifting finance flows towards low-carbon and climate resilient development pathways, and a reform of the global financial architecture, as proposed by the Bridgetown Initiative.
The new loss and damage fund will also be an important instrument to mobilize resources, but issues remain. The fund will need to move towards more innovative financing mechanisms to reach the necessary scale of investment.
Nov. 2023
Drought data shows “an unprecedented emergency on a planetary scale”: UNCCD
Recent drought-related data based on research in the past two years and compiled by the UN point to “an unprecedented emergency on a planetary scale, where the massive impacts of human-induced droughts are only starting to unfold.”
According to the report, ‘Global Drought Snapshot,’ launched by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at the outset of COP28 climate talks in the UAE, few if any hazard claims more lives, causes more economic loss and affects more sectors of societies than drought.
UNCCD is one of three Conventions originated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The other two address climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (UN CBD).
Says UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: “Unlike other disasters that attract media attention, droughts happen silently, often going unnoticed and failing to provoke an immediate public and political response. This silent devastation perpetuates a cycle of neglect, leaving affected populations to bear the burden in isolation.”
“The Global Drought Snapshot report speaks volumes about the urgency of this crisis and building global resilience to it. With the frequency and severity of drought events increasing, as reservoir levels dwindle and crop yields decline, as we continue to lose biological diversity and famines spread, transformational change is needed. We hope this publication serves as a wake-up call.”
2023 State of Climate Services: Health. (WMO)
World Meteorological Organization's annual State of Climate Services report this year focuses on health. It highlights the need for tailored climate information and services to support the health sector in the face of more extreme weather and poor air quality, shifting infectious disease patterns and food and water insecurity.
“Practically the whole planet has experienced heatwaves this year. The onset of El Niño in 2023 will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records further, triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean – and making the challenge even greater,” says WMO Secretary-General, Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“It is clear that by channelling investment and boosting collaboration, there is huge potential to go further and faster by enhancing the impact of climate science and services so that health partners get the support they need at a time when unprecedented changes to our climate are having an increasing impact,” says Prof. Taalas.
The report, which includes input from more than 30 collaborating partners, features case studies from around the world showcasing how integrated climate and health action makes a very real difference in people’s daily life.
“The climate crisis is a health crisis, driving more severe and unpredictable weather events, fuelling disease outbreaks, and contributing to higher rates of noncommunicable diseases,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "By working together to make high-quality climate services more accessible to the health sector, we can help to protect the health and well-being of people facing the perils of climate change."
The number of medium- or large-scale disaster events is projected to reach 560 a year – or 1.5 each day – by 2030. Countries with limited early warning coverage have disaster mortality that is eight times higher than countries with substantial to comprehensive coverage, according to figures cited in the report.
A special section is devoted to extreme heat, which causes the greatest mortality of all extreme weather. However the impacts are underestimated as heat-related mortality could be 30 times higher than what is currently recorded. Heat warning services are provided to health decision makers in only half of the affected countries, but are expected to rapidly increase by 2027 under the international Early Warnings for All initiative.
Between 2000 and 2019, estimated deaths due to heat were approximately 489,000 per year, with a particularly high burden in Asia (45%) and Europe (36%). Extreme heat conditions during the summer of 2022, were estimated to have claimed over 60,000 excess deaths in 35 European countries.
Heatwaves also exacerbate air pollution, which is already responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year and is the fourth biggest killer by health risk factor.
Climate change is exacerbating risks of food insecurity. In 2012-2021, 29% more global land area was affected by extreme drought for at least one month per year than in 1951–1960. The compounding impacts of droughts and heatwave days were associated with 98 million additional people reporting moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020 than annually in 1981–2010, in 103 countries analysed, according to figures cited in the report.
The changing climatic conditions are also enhancing the transmission of many climatically sensitive infectious vector-, food-, and water-borne diseases. For example, dengue is the world’s fastest-spreading vector-borne disease, whilst the length of the malaria transmission season has increased in parts of the world.
Some of the most significant challenges to health are in the nexus of water, food security and nutrition, the nexus of infectious diseases (food-, water-, airborne and vector-borne diseases), and the nexus of extreme weather and air quality, particularly in urban areas, says the report.
Climate change undermines health determinants and increases pressures on health systems threatening to reverse decades of progress to promote human health and well-being, particularly in the most vulnerable communities.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes, with very high confidence, that future health risks from injury, disease, and death will increase due to more intense and frequent temperature extremes, cyclones, storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires.
Ecological Threat Report 2023 - Institute for Economics and Peace
By 2050, 2.8 billion people will reside in countries facing severe ecological threats, compared to 1.8 billion today.
The Ecological Threat Report (ETR) analyses ecological threats globally and assesses the countries and subnational areas most at risk from conflict, civil unrest and displacement caused by ecological degradation and climate-related events. The report covers 221 countries and independent territories.
The main finding from the ETR is that without concerted action, current levels of ecological degradation will worsen, intensifying existing conflicts, and becoming a catalyst for new conflicts, thereby resulting in increases in forced migration.
The number of countries suffering from severe ecological threats and low societal resilience has risen by 3 to 30 in the last year. These 'hotspot' countries are home to 1.1 billion people, an increase of 332 million. The recent pressures on global food prices have placed additional demands on countries already suffering from food insecurity.
Oct. 2023
Postponing climate action leads to bigger increases in global temperature rise - Prof. Jim Skea, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
“What determines global warming is not the timing of net zero, but the pathway by which you get there. It is the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide over time that are the main factor.
“The longer you put off action, the greater will be the cumulative CO2 emissions that have gone into the atmosphere, and therefore the higher the level of the warming. That’s the global point.”
“Every fraction of a degree matters”, Skea says, emphasising both “urgency and agency” in terms of climate action. “The situation we are in is urgent, we are in dire circumstances. But we can also do something about it if we choose to do so.”
Oct. 2023
Why is the climate crisis also a human rights crisis? (Human Rights Watch)
COP28, the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, will bring together state parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as thousands of experts, journalists, climate activists, community members, and representatives from businesses and nongovernmental groups. It is a forum for states to discuss how to confront the climate crisis that is taking a growing toll on human rights around the globe.
Despite growing urgency, the meetings have largely failed to result in the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions or to adequately support a transition to renewable energy, protecting those hardest hit by floods, drought, hurricanes, and other climate-related disasters. COP28 will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from November 30 to December 12, 2023, a source of concern both because of the UAE’s climate-related policies and its human rights record.
Why is the climate crisis also a human rights crisis?
The right to live in a healthy environment is a human right that has been recognized around the world. The climate crisis also affects many human rights, including the right to life and the rights to housing, food, and water.
From burning forests, to sweltering cities, to parched farmlands, to storm-battered coasts, the climate crisis is taking a mounting toll on lives and livelihoods around the globe. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, trap heat with profound consequences. Harm is already being felt, and the speed and scale will increase exponentially and erratically for the foreseeable future.
About 3.5 billion people already live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned. By 2050, more than a billion people living on small islands and in low-lying coastal communities and settlements are projected to be at risk from sea level rise and extreme weather.
Climate change aggravates existing social and economic inequalities. Both acute disasters and longer-term changes like multi-year droughts are far worse for low-income and marginalized communities that governments have already failed to protect.
Individuals with intersecting marginalized identities and vulnerabilities can have an even greater chance of dying, increasing poverty, or losing important resources because of climate change. Those affected include people with low incomes, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, older people, people with disabilities, women and pregnant people, children, and migrant workers. These groups are also most at risk of being left behind when disasters occur. Governments should budget to protect people’s human rights from climate harm.
Yet, the capacity of low- and middle-income governments to fulfill the rights of the most at-risk populations could become severely strained and, in many places, broken.
Governments’ ability to confront the climate crisis will most likely depend, in large measure, on what governments are doing today to uphold the rights of those already experiencing the impact of climate change and to address the underlining industries and economic policies that cause it.
The climate crisis necessitates supporting non-fossil fuel-based economies and political systems that center ending economic marginalization, racism, ableism, ageism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination.
What is at stake for human rights at COP28?
In March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science, confirmed that the world is warming at record levels and warned that governments are failing to take sufficient action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The panel urged governments to cut emissions by phasing out fossil fuels, halting deforestation, and scaling up renewable energy.
To fulfill their human rights obligation to address climate change, at this year’s COP, governments need to ensure a just and equitable transition to renewable energy and help people adapt to the impact of the climate crisis. They can do that by calling for the equitable and rights-respecting phasing out of all fossil fuels in the COP28 conclusions.
Governments at COP28 should make a commitment not to authorize new fossil fuel projects. In addition, they should end all forms of support, including subsidies and international finance, for oil, gas, and coal developments to rapidly reduce emissions and to limit the impacts of climate change.
Governments should also commit to upholding the rights of communities directly affected by fossil fuel operations, including the people working and living in and around sites of fossil fuel exploration, production, storage, transport, refining, use, and disposal.
Governments should ensure their participation and representation in decision-making on fossil fuel operations and climate change. It is particularly important to ensure participation of groups historically excluded, such as people with disabilities.
Two years ago at COP26 in Glasgow, governments made a commitment to phase down the use of coal. But last year, at COP27 in Egypt, a group of 81 countries made an ultimately unsuccessful push to include the phase out of all fossil fuels in the final text of the outcome document. The push was stymied by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states ans fossil fuel exporting countries, the Guardian reported.
Why is a fossil fuel phase out necessary to realize human rights?
There is growing consensus, including from the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel that for governments to meet global climate targets there cannot be new oil, gas, or coal projects.
Burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of the climate crisis, accounting for over 80 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, existing fossil fuel projects are already more than the climate can withstand to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius required to prevent a global climate collapse.
Nevertheless, governments continue to authorize – and subsidize – building fossil fuel infrastructure and poorly regulate existing operations. The fossil fuel industry deflects public and political pressure on its core operations, most recently by claiming that its operations can become “net zero.”
Why are robust regulations essential to ensure that carbon markets uphold human rights and support effective climate action, and which rules should be adopted at COP28?
COP28 should ensure the global carbon market contemplated under Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement is strictly regulated to uphold rights, support climate action, and provide a remedy for harm. These are vital issues given that state parties to the agreement, corporations, and other private entities are rapidly developing their presence in the market, even while safeguards in most countries range from inadequate to nonexistent.
Carbon markets trade in carbon credits, which are supposed to represent carbon dioxide that has been removed from, or prevented from being emitted into, the atmosphere by projects ranging from forest conservation to clean energy, among others. Many corporations and governments purchase carbon credits to claim they offset their own pollution.
Yet, many carbon credits traded in those markets do not actually represent permanently removed carbon or avoided emissions. These hot air credits undermine climate action when they are used to offset pollution, as no overall emissions reductions actually take place.


Life on planet Earth is under siege
by Bioscience Journal, UNU-EHS, BMJ, agencies
Oct. 2023
Life on planet Earth is under siege, by Christopher Wolf, William Ripple, Johan Rockstrom. (Bioscience Journal)
We are now in an uncharted territory. For several decades, scientists have consistently warned of a future marked by extreme climatic conditions because of escalating global temperatures caused by ongoing human activities that release harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, time is up. We are seeing the manifestation of those predictions as an alarming and unprecedented succession of climate records are broken, causing profoundly distressing scenes of suffering to unfold. We are entering an unfamiliar domain regarding our climate crisis, a situation no one has ever witnessed firsthand in the history of humanity.
In the present report, we display a diverse set of vital signs of the planet and the potential drivers of climate change and climate-related responses first presented by Ripple and Wolf and colleagues (2020), who declared a climate emergency, now with more than 15,000 scientist signatories.
The trends reveal new all-time climate-related records and deeply concerning patterns of climate-related disasters. At the same time, we report minimal progress by humanity in combating climate change.
Given these distressing developments, our goal is to communicate climate facts and policy recommendations to scientists, policymakers, and the public. It is the moral duty of us scientists and our institutions to clearly alert humanity of any potential existential threat and to show leadership in taking action.
Climate-related all-time records
In 2023, we witnessed an extraordinary series of climate-related records being broken around the world. The rapid pace of change has surprised scientists and caused concern about the dangers of extreme weather, risky climate feedback loops, and the approach of damaging tipping points sooner than expected.
This year, exceptional heat waves have swept across the world, leading to record high temperatures. The oceans have been historically warm, with global and North Atlantic sea surface temperatures both breaking records and unprecedented low levels of sea ice surrounding Antarctica.
In addition, June through August of this year was the warmest period ever recorded, and in early July, we witnessed Earth's highest global daily average surface temperature ever measured, possibly the warmest temperature on Earth over the past 100,000 years. It is a sign that we are pushing our planetary systems into dangerous instability.
We are venturing into uncharted climate territory. Global daily mean temperatures never exceeded 1.5-degree Celsius (°C) above preindustrial levels prior to 2000 and have only occasionally exceeded that number since then. However, 2023 has already seen 38 days with global average temperatures above 1.5°C by 12 September—more than any other year—and the total may continue to rise.
Even more striking are the enormous margins by which 2023 conditions are exceeding past extremes. Similarly, on 7 July 2023, Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest daily relative extent since the advent of satellite data, at 2.67 million square kilometers below the 1991–2023 average. Other variables far outside their historical ranges include the area burned by wildfires in Canada, which may indicate a tipping point into a new fire regime.
Recent trends in planetary vital signs
On the basis of time series data, 20 of the 35 vital signs are now showing record extremes. As we describe, these data show how the continued pursuit of business as usual has, ironically, led to unprecedented pressure on the Earth system, resulting in many climate-related variables entering uncharted territory.
Climate change is contributing significantly to human suffering, with many climate impacts expected to further intensify in the coming years. We may have already experienced abrupt increases in certain types of extreme weather, possibly surpassing the rate of temperature rise.
In 2023, climate change likely contributed to a number of major extreme weather events and disasters. Several of these events demonstrate how climate extremes are threatening wider areas that have not typically been prone to such extremes.
As these impacts continue to accelerate, more funding to compensate for climate-related loss and damage in developing countries is urgently needed. The United Nations’ new loss and damage global fund established at COP27 is a promising development, but its success will require robust support by wealthy countries.
Motivated by recent events and trends, we continue to issue specific warnings and recommendations involving topics ranging from food security to climate justice. Coordinated efforts in each of these areas could help to support a broader agenda focused on holistic and equitable climate policy.
Economic growth, as it is conventionally pursued, is unlikely to allow us to achieve our social, climate, and biodiversity goals. The fundamental challenge lies in the difficulty of decoupling economic growth from harmful environmental impacts. Although technological advancements and efficiency improvements can contribute to some degree of decoupling, they often fall short in mitigating the overall ecological footprint of economic activities.
The impacts vary greatly by wealth; in 2019, the top 10% of emitters were responsible for 48% of global emissions, whereas the bottom 50% were responsible for just 12%. We therefore need to change our economy to a system that supports meeting basic needs for all people instead of excessive consumption by the wealthy.
The elevated rates of climate disasters and other impacts that we are presently seeing are largely a consequence of historical and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions. To mitigate these past emissions and stop global warming, efforts must be directed toward eliminating emissions from fossil fuels and land-use change and increasing carbon sequestration with nature-based climate solutions.
We should not rely on unproven carbon removal techniques. Although research efforts should be accelerated, depending heavily on future large-scale carbon removal strategies at this juncture may create a deceptive perception of security and postpone the imperative mitigation actions that are essential to tackle climate change now.
The effects of global warming are progressively more severe, and possibilities such as a worldwide societal breakdown are feasible and dangerously underexplored. By the end of this century, an estimated 3 to 6 billion individuals—approximately one-third to one-half of the global population—might find themselves confined beyond the livable region, encountering severe heat, limited food availability, and elevated mortality rates because of the effects of climate change.
Big problems need big solutions. Therefore, we must shift our perspective on the climate emergency from being just an isolated environmental issue to a systemic, existential threat.
Although global heating is devastating, it represents only one aspect of the escalating and interconnected environmental crisis that we are facing (e.g., biodiversity loss, fresh water scarcity, pandemics). We need policies that target the underlying issues of ecological overshoot where the human demand on Earth's resources results in overexploitation of our planet and biodiversity decline. As long as humanity continues to exert extreme pressure on the Earth, any attempted climate-only solutions will only redistribute this pressure.
To address the overexploitation of our planet, we challenge the prevailing notion of endless growth and overconsumption by rich countries and individuals as unsustainable and unjust. Instead, we advocate for reducing resource overconsumption; reducing, reusing, and recycling waste in a more circular economy; and prioritizing human flourishing and sustainability.
We emphasize climate justice and fair distribution of the costs and benefits of climate action, particularly for vulnerable communities. We call for a transformation of the global economy to prioritize human well-being and to provide for a more equitable distribution of resources.
As scientists, we are increasingly being asked to tell the public the truth about the crises we face in simple and direct terms. The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023. We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered.
Conditions are going to get very distressing and potentially unmanageable for large regions of the world, with the 2.6°C warming expected over the course of the century, even if the self-proposed national emissions reduction commitments of the Paris Agreement are met.
We warn of potential collapse of natural and socioeconomic systems in such a world where we will face unbearable heat, frequent extreme weather events, food and fresh water shortages, rising seas, more emerging diseases, and increased social unrest and geopolitical conflict.
Massive suffering due to climate change is already here, and we have now exceeded many safe and just Earth system boundaries, imperiling stability and life-support systems.
As we will soon bear witness to failing to meet the Paris agreement's aspirational 1.5°C goal, the significance of immediately curbing fossil fuel use and preventing every further 0.1°C increase in future global heating cannot be overstated.
Rather than focusing only on carbon reduction and climate change, addressing the underlying issue of ecological overshoot will give us our best shot at surviving these challenges in the long run. This is our moment to make a profound difference for all life on Earth, and we must embrace it with unwavering courage and determination to create a legacy of change that will stand the test of time.
Oct. 2023
A United Nations University report released today finds that drastic changes are approaching if risks to our fundamental socioecological systems are not addressed.
The Interconnected Disaster Risks report 2023 published by the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) warns of six risk tipping points ahead of us:
Accelerating extinctions; Groundwater depletion; Mountain glaciers melting; Space debris; Unbearable heat; Uninsurable future
Systems are all around us and closely connected to us: ecosystems, food systems, water systems and more. When they deteriorate, it is typically not a simple and predictable process. Rather, instability slowly builds until suddenly a tipping point is reached and the system changes fundamentally or even collapses, with potentially catastrophic impacts.
A risk tipping point is defined in the report as the moment at which a given socioecological system is no longer able to buffer risks and provide its expected functions, after which the risk of catastrophic impacts to these systems increases substantially.
These diverse cases illustrate that risk tipping points extend beyond the single domains of climate, ecosystems, society or technology. Instead, they are inherently interconnected, and they are also closely linked to human activities and livelihoods.
Many new risks emerge when and where our physical and natural worlds interconnect with human society.
One example of a risk tipping point that the report explains is groundwater depletion. Underground water reservoirs called aquifers are an essential freshwater resource around the world, and they supply drinking water to over 2 billion people. Around 70 per cent of groundwater withdrawals are used for agriculture, oftentimes when there is not sufficient water from above-ground sources available. Today, aquifers help to mitigate half of the losses in agriculture caused by drought, a phenomenon which is only expected to increase in the future due to climate change.
But the report warns that now it’s the aquifers themselves that are approaching a tipping point: More than half of the world’s major aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be naturally replenished. If the water table falls below a level that existing wells can access, farmers can suddenly find themselves without the ability to access water, which puts entire food production systems at risk of failure.
“As we indiscriminately extract our water resources, damage nature and biodiversity, and pollute both Earth and space, we are moving dangerously close to the brink of multiple risk tipping points that could destroy the very systems that our life depends on,” said Dr. Zita Sebesvari, Lead Author of the Interconnected Disaster Risks report and Deputy Director of UNU-EHS.
In the case of the “Unbearable heat” risk tipping point described in the report, it is human-induced climate change that is causing a global rise in temperatures, leading to more frequent and intense heatwaves that will in some areas reach temperatures in which the human body can no longer survive.
Oct. 2023
More than 200 health journals have urged the World Health Organization to sound the alarm on climate change and dwindling biodiversity. (BMJ)
Over 200 health journals call on the United Nations, political leaders, and health professionals to recognise that climate change and biodiversity loss are one indivisible crisis and must be tackled together to preserve health and avoid catastrophe. This overall environmental crisis is now so severe as to be a global health emergency.
The world is currently responding to the climate crisis and the nature crisis as if they were separate challenges. This is a dangerous mistake. The 28th UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change is about to be held in Dubai while the 16th COP on biodiversity is due to be held in Turkey in 2024. The research communities that provide the evidence for the two COPs are unfortunately largely separate, but they were brought together for a workshop in 2020 when they concluded: “Only by considering climate and biodiversity as parts of the same complex problem … can solutions be developed that avoid maladaptation and maximize the beneficial outcomes.”
As the health world has recognised with the development of the concept of planetary health, the natural world is made up of one overall interdependent system. Damage to one subsystem can create feedback that damages another—for example, drought, wildfires, floods, and the other effects of rising global temperatures destroy plant life and lead to soil erosion and so inhibit carbon storage, which means more global warming. Climate change is set to overtake deforestation and other land use change as the primary driver of nature loss.
Human health is damaged directly by both the climate crisis, as the journals have described in previous editorials,89 and the nature crisis.10 This indivisible planetary crisis will have major effects on health as a result of the disruption of social and economic systems—shortages of land, shelter, food, and water, exacerbating poverty, which in turn will lead to mass migration and conflict. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, air pollution, and the spread of infectious diseases are some of the major health threats exacerbated by climate change.
“Without nature, we have nothing,” was UN Secretary General António Guterres’s blunt summary at the biodiversity COP in Montreal last year.12 Even if we could keep global warming below an increase of 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels, we could still cause catastrophic harm to health by destroying nature.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human health, and yet pollution has damaged water quality, causing a rise in waterborne diseases.13 Contamination of water on land can also have far reaching effects on distant ecosystems when that water runs off into the ocean.
Good nutrition is underpinned by diversity in the variety of foods, but there has been a striking loss of genetic diversity in the food system. Globally, about a fifth of people rely on wild species for food and their livelihoods.
Declines in wildlife are a major challenge for these populations, particularly in low and middle income countries. Fish provide more than half of dietary protein in many African, South Asian, and small island nations, but ocean acidification has reduced the quality and quantity of seafood.
Changes in land use have forced tens of thousands of species into closer contact, increasing the exchange of pathogens and the emergence of new diseases and pandemics.
People losing contact with the natural environment and the declining loss in biodiversity have both been linked to increases in non-communicable, autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases and metabolic, allergic, and neuropsychiatric disorders.
For Indigenous people, caring for and connecting with nature is especially important for their health. Nature has also been an important source of medicines, and thus reduced diversity also constrains the discovery of new medicines.
Communities are healthier if they have access to high quality green spaces that help filter air pollution, reduce air and ground temperatures, and provide opportunities for physical activity.
The health effects of climate change and biodiversity loss will be experienced unequally between and within countries, with the most vulnerable communities often bearing the highest burden. Linked to this, inequality is also arguably fuelling these environmental crises. Environmental challenges and social and health inequities are challenges that share drivers, and there are potential co-benefits from addressing them.
Global health emergency
In December 2022 the biodiversity COP agreed on the effective conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s land, coastal areas, and oceans by 2030. Industrialised countries agreed to mobilise $30bn a year to support developing nations to do so. These agreements echo promises made at climate COPs.
Yet many commitments made at COPs have not been met. This has allowed ecosystems to be pushed further to the brink, greatly increasing the risk of arriving at “tipping points”— abrupt breakdowns in the functioning of nature. If these events were to occur, the impacts on health would be globally catastrophic.
This risk, combined with the severe impacts on health already occurring, means that the World Health Organization should declare the indivisible climate and nature crisis as a global health emergency.
The three preconditions for WHO to declare a situation to be a public health emergency of international concern are that it is serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s national border; and may require immediate international action. Climate change seems to fulfil all those conditions.
While the accelerating climate change and loss of biodiversity are not sudden or unexpected, they are certainly serious and unusual. Hence, we call for WHO to make this declaration before or at the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024.
Health professionals must be powerful advocates for both restoring biodiversity and tackling climate change for the good of health. Political leaders must recognise both the severe threats to health from the planetary crisis and the benefits that can flow to health from tackling the crisis. But, first, we must recognise this crisis for what it is: a global health emergency.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook