Time to reset our relationship with nature: UN ahead of 5th Environment Assembly

Addressing environmental crises will also help reach sustainable goals such as poverty-alleviation, food and water security and good health, says a new UN report

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Sunday 21 February 2021

Climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation should be tackled together by transforming the world’s relationship with nature, said a new report released by United Nations ahead of its fifth Environment Assembly.

The assembly will be held February 22-23, 2021 on the theme ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’.

It calls for strengthened action to protect and restore nature and nature-based solutions to achieve the sustainable development goals in its three social, economic and environmental dimensions.

The new 168-page report called ‘Making Peace with Nature’ presents a strong case for innovation and investment to tackle climate, biodiversity and pollution —the three environmental emergencies within the framework of sustainable development goals.

“It is time to re-set and reevaluate our relationship with nature,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his address while launching the report.

Growing triple crisis

The three self-inflicted planetary crises are closely interconnected and put the well-being of current and future generations at unacceptable risk, warned the report released on February 18, 2021.

Inequity in economic growth has left 1.3 billion people poor. At the same time,  extraction of natural resources has multiplied three times creating a planetary emergency.

More than one million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species are increasingly at risk of extinction.  Every year, nine million people die prematurely due to pollution.

Even though the causes and mechanisms of climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation are complex, these should be considered together, the report proposed.

“They are reinforcing each other and driving further to the environment and our health. That is the central message of the UNEP synthesis report,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP in her statement.

The world can transform its relationship with nature and tackle them together for securing a sustainable future and preventing future pandemics, said UN.

The report delves into the ‘triple crisis’ by drawing on global assessments, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It also refers to UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report, the UNEP International Resource Panel and new findings on the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as the novel coronavirus diseases (COVID-19). 

Three sustainable development goals — poverty alleviation, food and water security and good health for all — will also be reached by addressing environmental crisis, said the report.

It advocates for advancements in science and bold policymaking for a carbon neutral world by 2050, while bending the curve on biodiversity loss and curbing pollution and waste.

By innovating and investing in those activities that that protect both people and nature, it will be possible to reap success in the form of restored ecosystems and healthier lives, as well as a stable climate.

The report highlights the importance of changing mindsets and values, and finding political and technical solutions that measure up to the Earth’s environmental crises.

For a sustainable future

Natural capital can be included by the governments to measure the economic performance. Nations are advised to put a price on carbon and shift trillions of dollars in subsidies from fossil fuels, non-sustainable agriculture and transportation towards low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions

There is a need for setting ambitious international targets for biodiversity, such as expanded and improved protected area networks.

New variants of coronavirus has made the fight against COVID-19 challenging and the pandemic may soon turn endemic in many countries.

In context of this, the report cautions how ecosystem degradation heightens the risk of pathogens making the jump from animals to human. It has strongly advocated for importance of a ‘one health’ approach that considers human, animal and planetary health together.

A sustainable economy driven by renewable energy and nature-based solutions will create new jobs, cleaner infrastructure and a resilient future, said the report. It is the bedrock of hope in the post-COVID-19 world.

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