UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 : The world must stop it’s assault on nature and find more political will to combat climate change, the president of United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, has told the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5).
“The impact of global warming and climate change are visible and the impacts of biodiversity loss, though less visible, will be equally devastating for the future of humanity,” the Pakistani envoy said in a speech to the Assembly, which ended a two-day online meeting on Tuesday.
Attended by thousands of online participants, including more than 1,500 delegates from 153 UN member states and over 60 environment ministers, the Assembly, which is the pre-eminent forum for multilateral action on environmental issues, also agreed on key aspects of UN Environment Programme’s work, kicked off the commemoration of UNEP’s 50th anniversary and held leadership dialogues on how to build a resilient and inclusive post-coronavirus pandemic world.
A political statement adopted by the Assembly warned that the world risks new pandemics “if we don’t change how we safeguard nature.”
In his remarks, Ambassador Akram said while our planet was a hospitable and bio-diverse, “unfortunately, in the industrial era we have severely abused nature.”
In the past 50 years, he said, the world’s population has doubled, the global economy has grown nearly fourfold and global trade has increased tenfold, driving up the demand for energy and materials. Many types of pollution were increasing, with negative impacts for nature.
“Over a third of our forests have disappeared, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, half the live coral cover on reefs has disappeared since the 1870s, and over 85 per cent of wetlands have been lost.
“Humans have assaulted nature….,” the ECOSOC chief added.
The coronavirus pandemic was a grim reminder of the relationship between people and nature, he said, stressing that if the environmental targets were not achieved, most of the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will also fail to be realized by 2030.
Economic models that are driving states to fight nature, and each other, must be discarded and new paradigm that values its preservation adopted, the Pakistani envoy said.
“The three areas of focus I have identified for ECOSOC this year – finance, sustainable infrastructure and science and technology – are vital to achieve environmental goals,” he said.
An estimated $4.3 trillion was needed for developing countries to recover from the COVID crisis and achieve the SDGs targets, Ambassador Akram said, adding no recovery, much less a green recovery, was possible without access to adequate finance and as such the promise of $100 billion annually must be fulfilled.
Science and technology offered answers to the challenge of recovery, he said, pointing out that the rapid vaccine production affirmed the ability of innovation.
“The world is at a critical inflection point,” Ambassador Akram told the Assembly, while identifying that the choice was massive suffering and impending economic and environmental catastrophe or sustainable and equitable global growth.
“We must mobilize the political will to take critical decisions – to end the rape of nature, to contain economic greed, to reverse policy negligence, and to prevent humanity from destroying the hospitality of our planet,” he said in conclusion.
The political statement, which the Assembly adopted, also warned that “more than ever that human health and well-being are dependent upon nature and the solutions it provides, and we are aware that we shall face recurring risks of future pandemics if we maintain our current unsustainable patterns in our interactions with nature.”
Sveinung Rotevatn, President of the Assembly and Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment, echoed the warning.
“Everyone gathered at the Environment Assembly today are deeply concerned about how the pandemic causes new and serious health, socioeconomic and environmental challenges, and exacerbates existing ones, all over the world,” he told a press conference on the closing day of UNEA-5.
“We shall work together to identify actions which can help us address climate change, protect biodiversity, and reduce pollution, at the same time,” he added.
The Assembly agreed to a new Medium-Term Strategy, Programme of Work and budget for UNEP. The new Strategy – which will take UNEP from 2022-2025 – sets out a vision for UNEP’s role in delivering the promises of the 2030 Agenda.
“The strategy is about transforming how UNEP operates and engages with Member States, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and youth groups, so we can go harder, faster, stronger,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP ‘s Executive Director.
“This strategy is about providing science and know-how to governments. The strategy is also about collective, whole-of-society action – moving us outside ministries of environment to drive action.”