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Wednesday, March 13, 2019, 21:34
UN: Environment is deadly, worsening mess, but not hopeless
By Associated Press
Wednesday, March 13, 2019, 21:34 By Associated Press

In this Sept 4, 2017 file photo, pyres of ivory are set on fire in Nairobi National Park, Kenya. (BEN CURTIS / AP)

WASHINGTON — Earth is sick with multiple and worsening environmental ills killing millions of people yearly, a new UN report says.

There is every reason to be hopeful. There is still time but the window is closing fast

 Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-editors, sixth Global Environment Outlook

Climate change, a global major extinction of animals and plants, a human population soaring toward 10 billion, degraded land, polluted air, and plastics, pesticides and hormone-changing chemicals in the water are making the planet an increasing unhealthy place for people, says the scientific report issued once every few years.

But it may not be too late.

"There is every reason to be hopeful," report co-editors Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins told The Associated Press in an email. "There is still time but the window is closing fast."

The sixth Global Environment Outlook, released Wednesday at a UN conference in Nairobi, Kenya, painted a dire picture of a planet where environmental problems interact with each other to make things even more dangerous for people. It uses the word "risk" 561 times in a 740-page report.

The report concludes "unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth's ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society."

In this Oct 21, 2009 file photo, an endangered Agalychnis annae, commonly known as a Blue-Sided Leaf Frog, is seen at National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica. (KENT GILBERT / AP)

But the same document says changes in the way the world eats, buys things, gets its energy and handles its waste could help fix the problems.

The report concludes "unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth's ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society"

The report is "a dramatic warning and a high-level road map for what must be done to prevent widespread disruption and even irreversible destruction of planetary life-support systems," said University of Michigan environment dean Jonathan Overpeck, who wasn't part of the report.

Several other scientists also praised the report, which draws on existing science, data and maps.

"This report clearly shows the connections between the environment and human health and well-being," said Stuart Pimm, a Duke University ecologist.

ALSO READ: Nation plays key role in climate change debate

In this Sept 14, 2018 file photo, Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Gupta and Ekins, environmental scientists in Amsterdam and London, said air pollution annually kills 7 million people worldwide and costs society about US$5 trillion. Water pollution, with associated diseases, kills another 1.4 million.

ALSO READ: Future steps outlined at climate change gathering

But the same document says changes in the way the world eats, buys things, gets its energy and handles its waste could help fix the problems

The scientists said the most important and pressing problems facing humankind are global warming and loss of biodiversity because they are permanent and affect so many people in so many different ways.

CLIMATE CHANGE

"Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change," the report says, noting that unless something changes, global temperatures will exceed the threshold of warming — another 1 degree Celsius above current temperatures — that international agreements call dangerous.

The report details climate change impacts on human health, air, water, land and biodiversity. Almost all coastal cities and small island nations are increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rising seas and extreme weather.

In this Nov 10, 2017 file photo, motorists ride through a thick blanket of smog and dust on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. (ALTAF QADRI / AP)

BIODIVERSITY

"A major species extinction event, compromising planetary integrity and Earth's capacity to meet human needs, is unfolding," the report says, listing threats to ecosystems, fisheries and other major systems. It notes conservationists are divided on whether Earth is in a sixth mass extinction.

AIR POLLUTION

Not only are millions of people dying each year, but unhealthy air especially hurts "the elderly, very young, ill and poor," the report says.

In this Aug 13, 2015 file photo, a plastic bottle lies among other debris washed ashore on the Indian Ocean beach of Uswetakeiyawa, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (GEMUNU AMARASINGHE / AP)

WATER POLLUTION

Gupta and Ekins, environmental scientists in Amsterdam and London, said air pollution annually kills 7 million people worldwide and costs society about US$5 trillion. Water pollution, with associated diseases, kills another 1.4 million.

ALSO READ: UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning

While 1.5 billion people now get clean drinking water they lacked in 2000, water quality in many regions has worsened, the report says.

Plastics and other litter have invaded every ocean at all depths, the report says.

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE

People getting sick from diseases caused by antimicrobial resistant bacteria in water supplies could become a major cause of death worldwide by 2050, unless something can be done about it, the report says.

In this Sept 4, 2017 file photo, Mariko Shimmi, right, helps carry items out of the home of Ken Tani in a neighborhood still flooded from Harvey in Houston. (GREAGORY BULL / AP)

Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change

Sixth Global Environment Outlook


LAND DEGRADATION

Land is getting less fertile and useful. The report says degradation "hot spots," where it's difficult to grow crops, now cover 29 percent of all land areas. The rate of deforestation has slowed but continues.

"The report provides a roadmap to move beyond 'doom and gloom' and rally together to face the challenges and take the future in our hands," said former US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, who wasn't part of the report. "This is an all-hands-on-deck moment."


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