The United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) has released the sixth edition of the Global Environment Outlook (2019) titled ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People’.
The report calls on the decision makers to take immediate action to address pressing environmental issues to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as well as other internationally agreed environment goals, such as the Paris Agreement.
The GEO -6 has reviewed the state of the health of the environment and the related health of the people and the prospects for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s Agenda 2030.
The title of the report- Healthy Planet, Healthy People, makes clear that achieving the SDGs will require a transformation in human lifestyles and productive activities: our industry, agriculture, buildings, transport and the energy system which powers them.
The report comes at a critical time for global development and it will build on the knowledge and experience gained from previous GEOs.
The previous GEO editions have already presented substantial evidence that environmental degradation, even within the planetary limits of the Earth’s ability to support human civilization has undermined current and future development and threatened different aspects of human well-being.
The GEO-6 builds on previous GEO reports and continues to provide an analysis of the state of the global environment, the global, regional and national policy response as well as the outlook for the foreseeable future.
It differs from previous GEO reports in its emphasis on Sustainable Development Goals and in providing possible means of accelerating achievement of these goals.
Following are the six key messages of the report:
1. A healthy planet supports healthy people: The report emphasises on how a healthy planet is important for the health and well-being of all people. It directly supports the lives and livelihoods of 70 per cent of the Earth’s population living in poverty and provides the basis for the production of the goods and services that are necessary for the global formal economy, which had a global GDP value of $US 75 trillion in 2017.
Overall the biosphere is essential for human survival and civilization and its value to humans is therefore effectively infinite.
2. Unhealthy planet leads to unhealthy people: The report revealed how the planet is becoming increasingly unhealthy through the negative impacts of biodiversity loss including pollinators, coral reefs and mangroves, climate change and other air pollution, water pollution, ocean pollution and depletion, and land use change.
An unhealthy planet has huge social costs in terms of human health and well-being as well as on the formal economy and livelihoods worldwide. In 2016, 24.2 million people were internally displaced in 118 countries as a result of sudden-onset disasters. Such disasters affected not just the poor countries, but also rich countries like the USA and Japan. Between 1995 and 2015, around 700,000 people have reportedly died and 1.7 billion people were affected by extreme weather events.
3. Drivers, pressures leading to unhealthy planet need to be addressed: The drivers and pressures result from a continuing failure to internalise environmental and health impacts into economic growth processes, technologies and city design. The pressures arise from massive use of chemicals, huge waste streams committed and intensifying climate change impacts and inequality which contributes to demographic changes and other drivers and pressures.
The environmental footprint of rich people is significantly higher than that of poorer people. For example, the monthly emissions per capita in rich countries are mostly higher than the yearly emissions per capita in poorer countries. The wealthiest countries were reported to consume 10 times the materials per person compared to the poorest countries.
4. More detailed knowledge required for refined and preemptive policy: The report states that the existing knowledge is sufficient to mobilise action now. However, new knowledge including disaggregated data from earth observation, in-situ data, citizen science, ground truthing and indigenous and local knowledge is necessary in national policy and accounting more broadly.
There are major benefits in accounting systems that register the details about who causes damage to the environment, how and why; what is the extent of nature’s contributions to humans, the loss of ecosystem goods and services; and who is affected.
The statistics and accounting systems also need to recognise the realities of the predominantly poor people in the informal economy, who are often particularly dependent on nature’s contributions to people and hence more vulnerable to environmental degradation.
5. Environmental policy is necessary but inadequate by itself: The report reveals that the current national policies are not on track to address the key environmental challenges effectively and equitably, in line with the aspirations of the SDGs.
It states that environmental considerations need to be integrated into all policy areas, such that the potential and actual implications for natural resources and the environment are robustly included in policies for economic growth, technological development and urban design so that there is effective long-term decoupling between economic growth, resource use and environmental degradation.
It further states that climate mitigation needs to be accompanied by policy for the equitable adaptation to committed climate change. Policies will only be effective if they are well designed, involving clear goals and flexible mixes of policy, including monitoring, instruments aimed at achieving them.
6. Healthy people, a healthy planet and a healthy economy can be mutually supportive: The report states that healthy diets and lifestyles, healthy cities with good waste management and the use of green infrastructure in built-up areas, and healthy mobility can increase labour productivity, reduce the need for land for agriculture and reduce the costs associated with urban congestion and transport-related pollution.
It states that the technological and social innovation that supports environmentally sound economic development provides a viable and attractive alternative to the ‘grow now, clean up later’ practices of the past. In addition, a healthy people approach requires the implementation of the rights of access to clean water and food, tenure rights, and gender equality. The report recommends that securing tenure rights for poor and indigenous people would enhance their ability to protect biodiversity and the different ecosystems that sustain them.
It further states that if gender equality is promoted, including the right to inherit and own land, then food security and many health issues relating especially to women and children could be better addressed.
The UN Environment launched the first Global Environment Outlook (GEO) in 1997.
The GEO reports aim to build on sound scientific knowledge to provide governments, local authorities, businesses and individual citizens with the information needed to guide societies to a truly sustainable world by 2050.
The GEO-6 builds on the findings of previous GEO reports, including the six regional assessments (2016), and outlines the current state of the environment, illustrates possible future environmental trends and analyses the effectiveness of policies.
This flagship report shows how governments can put the world on the path to a truly sustainable future. It emphasises that urgent and inclusive action is needed by decision makers at all levels to achieve a healthy planet with healthy people.