News ID: 238747
Published: 0942 GMT February 12, 2019

Report: Environment in multiple crises

Report: Environment in multiple crises

Politicians and policymakers have failed to grasp the gravity of the environmental crisis facing the Earth, a report claimed.

The think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said human impacts have reached a critical stage and threaten to destabilize society and the global economy,  BBC wrote.

Scientists warn of a potentially deadly combination of factors.

These include climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans.

The report from the center-left Institute for Public Policy Research said these factors are "driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilization that has reached critical levels.

"This destabilization is occurring at speeds unprecedented in human history and, in some cases, over billions of years."


So what is needed?


The IPPR warned that the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic outcomes is rapidly closing.

The authors urged three shifts in political understanding: On the scale and pace of environmental breakdown; the implications for societies; and the subsequent need for transformative change.

They say since 2005, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times, extreme temperature events by 20 times, and wildfires seven-fold.

At least climate change features in policy discussions, they say — but other vitally important impacts barely figure.


What issues are being under-played?


● Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes 

● Since the mid-20th Century, 30 percent of the world's arable land has become unproductive due to erosion

● 95 percent of the Earth's land areas could become degraded by 2050

These matters are close to home for British politicians, the authors argue, with the average population sizes of the most threatened species in the UK having decreased by two-thirds since 1970.

The UK is described as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Some 2.2 million tons of UK topsoil is eroded annually, and over 17 percent of arable land shows signs of erosion.

Nearly 85 percent of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia has been lost since 1850, with the remainder at risk of being lost over next 30–60 years.

The IIPR said many scientists believe we have entered a new era of rapid environmental change.

The report warned, "We define this as the 'age of environmental breakdown' to better highlight the severity of the scale, pace and implications of environmental destabilization resulting from aggregate human activity."


Will society take the solutions on offer?


Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London, told BBC News, "IPPR are right to say that environmental change is happening ever-faster and threatens to destabilize society.

"Future problems with food supplies could cause price spikes that drive civil unrest, while increases in levels of migration can strain societies.

"Both together could overload political institutions and global networks of trade.

"This century will be marked by rapid social and environmental change — that is certain. What is less clear is if societies can make wise political choices to avoid disaster in the future."

Harriet Bulkeley, a geography professor at Durham University, told BBC News that the IPPR paper was a good interpretation of the current evidence, but she said it raised the question of how firm evidence of environmental threats had to be to prompt government action.

"We know lots of good things to do," she said, "but often the argument is made that we need to have 'evidence-based policy'.

"This can, of course, be used as an excuse for delay. So, I guess the question is how much more evidence is needed for action?"


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