Health of Humanity Tied to State of Environment, UNEP Warns at GEO-6 Launch
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The first comprehensive assessment of the global environment to be released by the UN in the last five years, the ‘Sixth Global Environmental Outlook’ was released at the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly.

The report details the state of the global environment and shows clear links with human health.

It concludes that transformative change is needed to achieve internationally agreed environmental goals, including the SDGs.

13 March 2019: The first comprehensive assessment of the global environment to be issued by the UN in the last five years, the ‘Sixth Global Environmental Outlook’ (GEO-6), was released at the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). The launch event highlighted the linkages between health and well-being of humanity and the state of the environment.

Themed, ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People,’ GEO-6 aims to provide a sound evidence-based source of environmental information to help policymakers and the society at large to achieve the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and internationally agreed environmental goals and implement multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). It does so by assessing recent scientific information and data, analyzing current and past environmental policies and identifying future options to achieve sustainable development by 2050.

The report details the state of the global environment with regard to: air pollution and climate change; species, ecosystem and genetic diversity loss; ocean pollution, warming and acidification, and its increased use for food production, resource extraction and energy production, among other purposes; land degradation and desertification; and freshwater scarcity and pollution. It shows clear links between human health and the state of the environment. As highlighted during the launch, the report warns that “either we drastically scale up environmental protections, or cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.” It also notes that pollutants in our freshwater systems will see anti-microbial resistance become a major cause of death by 2050, and endocrine disruptors impact male and female fertility, as well as child neurodevelopment.

Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway?

“The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” said Joyce Msuya, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Acting Executive Director. “This report is an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now,” she stated.

GEO-6 concludes that to pursue the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs and achieve the internationally agreed environmental goals on pollution control, clean-up and efficiency improvements will not be sufficient. Instead, transformative change, in the sense of reconfiguration of basic social and production systems and structures, including their institutional frameworks, social practices, cultural norms and values, is necessary. Transformative change enables and combines visionary, strategic and integrated policy making with the enabling of bottom-up social, technological and institutional innovation and the systematic use of experience drawn from such experimentation. Successful models of environmental governance should be built upon well-designed policies, their implementation, compliance and enforcement. Such models, the report finds, should pay close attention to early signals from science and society and ensure adequate oversight capacity and investment in knowledge systems.

Among its tangible suggestions, the report recommends that, given the projected population growth, adopting less meat-intensive diets and reducing food waste globally would reduce food production needs. GEO-6 also calls for strategic investment in rural areas to address migration to cities and urbanization, and urgent action on climate change and marine plastic pollution. [Publication: Global Environment Outlook 6] [Summary for Policymakers] [Key Messages] [Publication Landing Page] [SDG Hub Story on GEO-6] [UNEP Press Release] [UN Press Release] [IISD RS Coverage of UNEA-4]


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