UN releases Sixth Global Environment Outlook with both good and bad news for us

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Smoke over the river Volga
Discharge of industrial wastes in river affects the biodiversity in freshwater sources like lakes. Smoke over the river Volga at Nizhni Novgorod in Russia. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

The Sixth Global Environment Outlook, which is the most comprehensive assessment of the environmental system which is produced by the United Nations in five years has both good and bad news in the store for us.

There has been continuous deterioration of the environment since the first report of GEO-6 was published in 1997 with almost irreversible impacts on the environment if the issues are not addressed. But all hopes are not lost as there are routes to create positive changes and thus a sustainable future can be ensured.

It was launched in the month of March, in the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly which took place in Nairobi. The report is the result of the collaborative work of about 200 experts for 18 months. It covers a wide range of topics such as biodiversity, quality of air, oceans, freshwater, energy and human health.

The state of our environment was assessed and possible courses of action for achieving the goals for the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development were also discussed.

There is a fair amount of good news in the GEO-6 amidst all the negative things which reflect the state of the environment in the whole world. There are some pathways to cause a wide scale positive impact which have to be carried out with utmost sincerity and a great rate for creating sustainable futures. The policies which are most likely to make a big impact are related to entire systems such as food, waste management and energy.

For example, if we reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, it leads to better health benefits by reducing the outdoor air pollution which is responsible for causing premature deaths. Also, efforts directed towards reducing worldwide hunger rates can help us to fight many issues such as climate change, land degradation and chemical loss. But all of this has to be done in a short amount of time because, with the increasing rate of change of environmental conditions, the scope for positive action is continuously reducing.

But the GEO-6 also informs us of the condition of the environment which has been deteriorated mainly due to factors such as population growth, climate change and urbanisation. Not to mention, the unprecedented rates of change in technology have also hurt the environment. Currently, we are dealing with issues such as

  • Air pollution causing premature deaths of around 6-7 million annually
  • The sixth largest mass extinction in the history of the planet
  • Disposal of around 8 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans
  • 1.4 million annual deaths due to polluted drinking water and lack of sanitation

Under these circumstances, the various goals under Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement are unlikely to be completed. The GEO-6 has called for sustained and urgent efforts by the governments and business leaders for achieving it.

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