The environment is in trouble, but there are solutions out there
Analysis A new UN report warns of millions of deaths resulting from environmental damage – but, says Josh Gabbatiss, we already have the knowledge to address the situation
Another day, another major report bearing tidings of death and destruction. Today, a United Nations (UN) environmental assembly in Nairobi saw the release of its sixth “Global Environment Outlook”, and the conclusions weren’t good.
As is often the case in these big UN reports, most of the information contained within its 709 pages is not new to anyone who follows environmental news. Industrial farming, air pollution and antibiotic resistance all feature prominently, as do the usual warnings that world leaders are not taking the threat seriously enough.
While climate change does feature, its primary focus is the myriad other problems being inflicted on the planet by humanity. Crucially, it warned that environmental problems like filthy air, contaminated water and resistance to antibiotics are already killing millions of people every year – and this trend is only going to get worse.
These problems are messy and difficult to pin down, but from the reams and reams of text a message of hope does ultimately emerge. Not only does the science and money exist to tackle these problems, considering the effects they are already having on people and businesses around the world, it would actually make good economic sense to tackle them sooner rather than later. The only thing standing in the way, as ever, are the people at the top who make the important decisions.
Crucially, the authors concluded that spending 2 per cent of each nation’s GDP on environmental challenges would allow economies to continue growing while avoiding many of their hellish predictions.
Speaking to Associated Press, former US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco said that, despite its dire contents, the report was a roadmap to move beyond “doom and gloom”. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” she added.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Philip Hammond revealed a raft of new measures that suggested he had been paying attention to these kinds of warnings. Not a man normally prone to enthusing about the environment, the chancellor said it was vital to “build sustainability into the heart of our economic model” and “apply the creativity of the marketplace” to tackle climate change.
However, many green campaigners still viewed his pronouncements as insufficiently ambitious, given the scale of the problems and the Conservatives’ own support for harmful policies such as massive road building programmes and Heathrow expansion.
Given the severity of the warnings being issued by the likes of the UN, it is not surprising that those who spend their time considering these problems find the chancellor’s offerings lacklustre. It is frustrating too that these measures are only being announced now, not years ago, and that – as ever – their announcement was overshadowed by Brexit.
But the inclusion of environmental pledges at the heart of the Spring Statement is a welcome break from previous form. It may not quite match up to the severity of the situation, but it’s a start.