Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humanity’s relationship with nature has been celebrated as a triumph. Through innovation, we light up countries, create industries, and travel abroad with unprecedented speed. With agricultural developments, record numbers of people are being fed and, in some parts of the world, life expectancy has more than doubled.
However, it looks more and more like a Pyrrhic victory. Burning fossil fuels is emitting greenhouse gases, causing a chain reaction of climate change, toxic levels of air pollution, and extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.
The rapid destruction of wildlife habitats through deforestation and industrial agriculture is also responsible for the emergence of three out of four new infectious diseases. These include zoonotic viruses like bird flu, SARS, MERS, Ebola, and likely Covid-19, which the world has continued to fight for more than a year since it emerged.
This is the domino effect of environmental degradation. Conservation alone will not get us where we need to be. The eight main types of ecosystems – croplands, forests, fresh water, oceans, mountains, grasslands and savannas, peatlands and cities – are degrading. And like dominoes, the deterioration of one ecosystem has a cascading effect on the rest.
At least two billion people depend directly on croplands and pastures, but a third of the land is highly degraded due to the use of pesticides and fertilizers and the creation of monoculture landscapes. This, in turn, increases food insecurity and leads to the degradation of other ecosystems to create new farmland. Agricultural expansion and logging have led to a global decline of 178 million hectares of forest area in the last three decades, an area five times the size of Germany.
Over the past half century, freshwater use has increased by roughly 600 percent and four billion people regularly face water shortages. The oceans and the life in them provide up to 80 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, but fish populations are rapidly collapsing, increasing plastic pollution is rendering the oceans toxic, while bleaching and acidification could make all of the world’s coral reefs will disappear by the year 2100.
Similar patterns of degradation in other ecosystems are increasingly breaking down our environmental protection, making us more vulnerable to the triple threat of climate change, loss of nature, pollution and waste. We must invest in the restoration of ecosystems: reforestation, afforestation, reforestation and regenerative agriculture, among other efforts. It is essential, as UN Secretary General António Guterres said, to finally make peace with nature.
Restoration is possible on a large scale, as detailed in a joint report issued by the United Nations Environment Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Countries must meet their commitments to restore 1 billion hectares of degraded land and add similar commitments for marine and coastal areas. Governments and private sector actors must triple their annual investments in nature-based solutions by 2030 and quadruple by 2050 from $ 133 billion today.
Beyond physical resources, hearts and minds must change. The game of humanity cannot consist of conquering nature.
Changing to a positive domino effect in nature involves realizing that we are all part of nature and moving from actions that cascade towards the destruction of our planet to a cascade of positive actions that allow nature and future generations. prosper.
Ms. Andersen is the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (Unep). [email protected]