Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Huge changes needed to keep nature, Earth OK, says U.N. report

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Humans are making Earth a broken and increasing­ly unlivable planet through climate change, biodiversi­ty loss and pollution. So the world must make dramatic changes to society, economics and daily life, a new United Nations report says.

Unlike past U.N. reports that focused on one issue and avoided telling leaders actions to take, the report released this month combines three intertwine­d environmen­tal crises and tells the world what’s got to change. It calls for changing what government­s tax; how nations value economic output; how power is generated; the way people get around, fish and farm; as well as what they eat.

“Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinke­d environmen­tal crises.”

Thus, the 168-page report title is blunt: “Making Peace With Nature.”

“Our children and their children will inherit a world of extreme weather events, sea level rise, a drastic loss of plants and animals, food and water insecurity and increasing likelihood of future pandemics,” said the lead author, Sir Robert Watson, who has chaired past U.N. science reports on climate change and biodiversi­ty loss.

“The emergency is, in fact, more profound than we thought only a few years ago,” said Watson, who has been a top-level scientist in the U.S. and British government­s.

This year “is a makeit-or-break-it year indeed because the risk of things becoming irreversib­le is gaining ground every year,” Guterres said. “We are close to the point of no return.”

The report highlighte­d what report co-author Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia called “a litany of frightenin­g statistics that hasn’t really been brought together:”

♦ Earth is on the way to an additional 3.5 degrees warming from now, far more than the internatio­nal agreed-upon goals in the Paris accord.

♦ About 9 million people a year die from pollution.

♦ About 1 million of Earth’s 8 million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction.

♦ Up to 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other industrial waste are dumped into the world’s waters every year.

♦ More than 3 billion people are affected by land degradatio­n, and only 15% of Earth’s wetlands remain intact.

♦ About 60% of fish stocks are fished at the maximum levels. There are more than 400 oxygendepl­eted “dead zones,” and marine plastics pollution has increased tenfold since 1980.

“In the end, it will hit us,” said biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who was a scientific adviser to the report. “It’s not what’s happening to elephants. It’s not what’s happening to climate or sea level rise. It’s all going to impact us.”

The planet’s problems are so interconne­cted that they must be worked on together to be fixed right, Warren said. And many of the solutions, such as eliminatin­g fossil fuel use, combat multiple problems including climate change and pollution, she said.

The report “makes it clear that there is no time for linear thinking or tackling problems one at a time,” said University of Michigan environmen­t professor Rosina Bierbaum, who wasn’t part of the work.

In another break, this report gives specific solutions that it says must be taken.

This report uses the word “must” 56 times and “should” 37 times. There should be 100 more because action is so crucial, said former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who wasn’t part of the report.

“Time has totally run out. That’s why the word ‘must’ is in there,” Figueres said.

The report calls for an end to fossil fuel use and says government­s should not tax labor or production, but rather use of resources that damages nature.

“Government­s are still playing more to exploit nature than to protect it,” Guterres said. “Globally, countries spend some 4 to 6 trillion dollars a year on subsidies that damage the environmen­t.”

Scientists should inform leaders about environmen­tal risks, “but their endorsemen­t of specific public policies threatens to undermine the credibilit­y of their science,” said former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, who founded the free market climate think tank RepublicEn. org.

The report also tells nations to value nature in addition to the gross domestic product when calculatin­g how an economy is doing.

Getting there means changes by individual­s, government­s and business, but it doesn’t have to involve sacrifice, said UN Environmen­t Programme Director Inger Andersen.

“There’s a country that has been on that path for 25 years: Costa Rica,” Andersen said. “Yes, these are difficult times, but more and leaders are stepping in.”

Scientists should inform leaders about environmen­tal risks, “but their endorsemen­t of specific public policies threatens to undermine the credibilit­y of their science,” said Bob Inglis, founder of climate think tank RepublicEn.org.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? The lakebed of Suesca lagoon sits dry and cracked in Colombia after years of very little rainfall. “For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” says U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS The lakebed of Suesca lagoon sits dry and cracked in Colombia after years of very little rainfall. “For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” says U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

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