UN Blueprint that Could Urgently Solve Earth’s Triple Climate Emergencies

A recent UN report lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution. Fishers on Kochi, Kerala operates the traditional lift-net method where catches have fallen drastically as a result of mechanised over-fishing. High fuel subsidies make it profitable for deep-sea fishing trawlers even when travelling large distances into sea. Safeguarding small fisher communities’ rights, expanding marine conservation area can allow biodiversity and fish growth to stabilise. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A recent UN report lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution. Fishers on Kochi, Kerala operates the traditional lift-net method where catches have fallen drastically as a result of mechanised over-fishing. High fuel subsidies make it profitable for deep-sea fishing trawlers even when travelling large distances into sea. Safeguarding small fisher communities’ rights, expanding marine conservation area can allow biodiversity and fish growth to stabilise. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Feb 19 2021 – “Our war on nature has left the planet broken. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth,” António Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations said.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it,” the UN Chief told the media while releasing a UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) major new report.

Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies’ lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution but provides detailed solutions too by drawing on global assessments, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, as well as UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report, the UNEP International Resource Panel, and new findings on the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.

Without nature’s help we will not thrive, not even survive

“Without nature’s help we will not thrive, not even survive,” Guterres cautioned.

The UN chief was, however, particularly hopeful climate and biodiversity commitment will see progress as he is set to welcome United States back to the Paris Agreement today, Feb. 19.

The “net-zero club” is growing, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP said.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was emerging as a moment of truth for our commitment to steer Earth and for our commitment to steer Earth and its people toward sustainability. (But) loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, together with climate change and pollution will undermine our efforts on 80 percent of assessed SDG targets particularly in poverty reduction, hunger, health, water, cities and climate,” Anderson said.

“Women represent 80 percent of those displaced by climate disruption; polluted water kills a further 1.8 million, predominantly children; and 1.3 billion people remain poor and some 700 million hungry,” Guterres said.

Christian Walzer, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Executive Director for Health Programs and one of the co-authors of the Making Peace with Nature report, told IPS via email: “Intact and functioning nature is the foundation on which we must build back better. Trying to separate economic recovery from healthy environments and climate change neglects the essential fact that the solutions to these crises are tightly interconnected and reinforce each other.” 

He underlined how ecosystem degradation heightens the risk of pathogens making the jump from animals to humans, and the importance of a ‘One Health’ approach that considers human, animal and planetary health together. Walzer is a veterinarian who leads on One Health issues across the world.

Economic growth has brought uneven gains in prosperity to a fast-growing global population, leaving 1.3 billion people poor, while tripling the extraction of natural resources to damaging levels and creating a planetary emergency. Subsidies on fossil fuels, for instance, and prices that leave out environmental costs, are driving the wasteful production and consumption of energy and natural resources that are behind all three problems.

Guterres pointed out how governments are still paying more to exploit nature than to protect it, spending 4 to 6 trillion dollars on subsidies that damage environment. He said over-fishing and deforestation is still encouraged by countries globally because it helped GDP growth, despite drastically undermining livelihoods of local fishers and forest dwellers.

In the current growth trajectory despite a temporary decline in emissions due to the pandemic, the earth is heading for at least 3°C of global warming this century; more than 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species are at substantially increased risk of extinction; and diseases caused by pollution are currently killing some 9 million people prematurely every year.

A farmer in Kerala’s hinterlands applies chemical fertilisers to his rice paddies. Large areas under unsustainable agricultural methods world-over in a drive for higher food production has damaged the environment. Scientific climate friendly methods are available and are equally productive.

A farmer in Kerala’s hinterlands applies chemical fertilisers to his rice paddies. Large areas under unsustainable agricultural methods world-over in a drive for higher food production has damaged the environment. Scientific climate friendly methods are available and are equally productive.
Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The blueprint for solutions

The authors of Making Peace with Nature report assess the links between multiple environmental and development challenges, and explain how advances in science and bold policymaking can open a pathway towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and a carbon neutral world by 2050 while bending the curve on biodiversity loss and curbing pollution and waste.

Taking that path means innovation and investment only in activities that protect both people and nature. Success will include restored ecosystems and healthier lives as well as a stable climate.

Amid a wave of investment to re-energise economies hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the blueprint communicates the opportunity and urgency for ambitious and immediate action. It also lays out the roles that everyone – from governments and businesses to communities and individuals – can and must play.

“2021 is a make-it or break-it year, a mind-shift year,” said Guterres. 2021, with its upcoming climate and biodiversity convention meetings, is the year where governments must come up with synergistic and ambitious targets to safeguard the planet.

To turn the tide of current unsustainability, the UNEP blueprint has several recommendations some of which include that governments include natural capital while measuring economic performance of both countries and businesses, and putting a price on carbon and shift trillions of dollars in subsidies from fossil fuels, non-sustainable agriculture and transportation towards low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions.

It is high time, the report advises, to expand and improve protected area networks for ambitious international biodiversity targets. Further, non-government organisations can build networks of stakeholders to ensure their full participation in decisions about sustainable use of land and marine resources, the report recommends.

Financial organisations need to stop lending for fossil fuels, and boost renewable energy expansion.  Developing innovative finance for biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture is of utmost importance now.

Businesses can adopt the principles of the circular economy to minimise resource use and waste and commit to maintaining transparent and deforestation-free supply chains.     

Scientific organisations can pioneer technologies and policies to reduce carbon emissions, increase resource efficiency and lift the resilience of cities, industries, communities and ecosystems

Individuals can reconsider their relationship with nature, learn about sustainability and change their habits to reduce their use of resources, cut waste of food, water and energy, and adopt healthier diets. two-thirds of global CO2 emissions are linked to households. “People’s choices matter,” the Guterres said.

 


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Money vs. Happiness

By Raghav Gaiha, Vani S. Kulkarni and Veena S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 19 2021 – The question whether the rich are more satisfied with their lives is often taken for granted, even though surveys, like the Gallup World Poll, show that the relationship between subjective well-being and income is often weak, except in low-income countries in Africa and South Asia. Researcher Daniel Kahneman and his collaborators, for example, report that the correlation between household income and reported life satisfaction or happiness with life typically ranges from 0.15 to 0.30. There are a few plausible reasons. First, growth in income mostly has a transitory effect on individuals’ reported life satisfaction, as they adapt to material goods. Second, relative income, rather than the level of income, affects well-being — earning more or less than others looms larger than how much one earns. Third, though average life satisfaction in countries tends to rise with GDP per capita at low levels of income, there is little increase in life satisfaction once GDP per capita exceeds $10,000 (in purchasing power parity). This article studies the relationships between subjective well-being, which is narrowly defined to focus on economic well-being in India, and variants of income, based on the only panel survey in India Human Development Survey (IHDS).

Why do we need a new measure of well-being when there is already a widely used, objective welfare measure based on per capita income? There are several reasons. The first stems from the distinction between decision utility and experienced utility. In the standard approach to measure well-being, ordinal preferences are inferred from the observations of decisions made supposedly by rational (utility maximising) agents. The object derived is decision utility. In contrast, recent advances in psychology, sociology, behavioural economics and happiness economics suggest that decision utility is unlikely to illuminate the utility associated with different experiences — hence the emphasis on measures that focus more directly on experienced utility, notably using subjective well-being (SWB) responses.

We draw upon the two rounds of the IHDS for 2005 and 2012. An important feature of IHDS is that it collected data on SWB. The question asked was: compared to seven years ago, would you say your household is economically doing the same, better or worse today? So, the focus of this SWB is narrow. But as it is based on self-reports, it connotes a broader view that is influenced by several factors other than income, assets, and employment, like age, health, caste, etc.

There is a positive relationship between SWB and per capita expenditure (a proxy for per capita income, which is frequently underestimated and underreported): the higher the expenditure in 2005, the greater was the SWB in 2012. The priority of expenditure, in time, rules out reverse causation from high SWB to high expenditure, i.e., higher well-being could also be associated with better performance resulting in higher expenditure. High expenditure is associated with a decent standard of living, good schooling of children, and financial security. As India’s comparable GDP per capita in 2003 (PPP) was $2,270, well below the threshold of $10,000, it is consistent with extant evidence.

Aspirations and achievements

In order to capture the gap between aspirations and achievements, we have analysed the relationship between SWB and ratio of per capita expenditure of a household to the highest per capita expenditure in the primary sampling unit. Although this is a crude approximation to relative deprivation, we get a negative relationship between SWB and this ratio. In other words, the larger the gap, the greater is the sense of resentment and frustration, and the lower is the SWB.

The larger the proportionate increase in per capita expenditure between 2005 and 2012, the greater is the SWB. To illustrate this, we construct three terciles of expenditure in 2005: the first representing extremely poor, the second the middle class, and the third the rich. If the proportionate increase in per capita expenditure is highest among the extremely poor and lowest among the rich, the higher will be the SWB of the extremely poor. This is indeed the case.

This provides important policy insights. One is that in a lower-middle-income country like India, growth of expenditure or income is significant. However, the widening of the gap between aspirations and achievements or between the highest expenditure/income of a reference group and actual expenditure/income of a household reflects resentment, frustration and loss of subjective well-being. So, taxing the rich and enabling the extremely poor to benefit more from economic opportunities can enhance well-being. In conclusion, objective welfare and subjective well-being measures together are far more useful than either on its own.

Veena S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at Arkansas State University and is a co-author for this article. Raghav Gaiha is Research Affiliate, Population Studies Centre, University of Pennsylvania; Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania

 


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