We are living in times of triple planetary crisis -climate change biodiversity loss and pollution. This most pressing, existential threat facing the people and planet is what brought world leaders in Sweden this week for the Stockholm+50 global environment meeting. Held 50 years after the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, the Stockholm+50 reinforced the need to act fast to secure a better for all. A resounding message is that there is only one earth, and time is running out. We must make bold choices and take urgent action now.
Though there has been notable progress in addressing drivers of the climate crisis, the human-led environmental damage is accelerating at an alarming rate. The poor and vulnerable are experiencing the greatest impact with direct socioeconomic consequences.
During UNDP’s recent visit to the east, we met rural smallholder farmers who were bearing the brunt of extreme weather conditions, including erratic rainfall, emergence of new diseases and pests, drying up of water sources and high frequencies of crop damage by wildlife, to name a few. These challenges threaten to undermine our collective progress towards poverty alleviation and food security.
We hear that glacier are melting at an unprecedented rate. We have lost 2,000 years’ worth of ice over the last 30 years, directly impacting rivers that support lives and livelihoods downstream.
In terms of biodiversity, the rapid loss of plant and animal species is estimated to be 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. This means that roughly 2,000 extinctions occur every year. Illicit poaching continues to impede biodiversity conservation efforts in the country.
The graveness of the third planetary crisis of pollution and waste is equally alarming, if not more.
An early celebration of the International Biodiversity Day on 20th May encouraged Sherubtse students to generate varied insights on pollution and waste. They had some not so welcome news to share. They were concerned about poorly managed waste facilities and how this could become a source of multiple pollutants in our rapidly urbanizing country. Our unsustainable lifestyles, coupled with the sheer number of products entering the market, would pose a major challenge to the pollution crisis. Piles of pet bottles were found in various corners of most villages we visited. They would have by now made their way to a landfill. These myriads of impacts are only likely to continue and intensify in the years to come
Over the last few months in the lead up to the conference, UNDP have supported Stockholm+50 national consultations with various stakeholder groups, including the civil society, youth, and private sector. The insights from these consultations underscore the challenges facing small developing countries like Bhutan. While the country is an environmental leader and has committed to do more, resource, technology and capacity constraints, compounded by the COVID-19 crisis, threaten Bhutan’s ability to keep its environmental promises.
The three planetary crises are interacting in complex ways that multiply risk at such a large scale that scientists are now warning that life may simply cease to exist in the next 50 years.
So, what needs to be done?
While there are multiple actions we need to take at an individual, communal, organizational and national levels to achieve climate ambitions, the following recommendations might trigger required behavioural changes to save our planet:
A mindset shift in understanding our relationship with nature: This will come from concerted efforts in educating and sensitizing everyone – including the literate and uneducated, young and old, and those in the public and private sectors. This shift in mindset must be nurtured from the early years of childhood through adulthood.
A shift towards adopting systems thinking approach: The three crises mutually reinforce one another, and neither will be successfully resolved unless they are tackled together. That’s why it’s crucial for us to remove our siloed lens and start wearing the systems thinking lens while developing an integrated, a whole-of-society approach to understanding how various components are interconnected and how each one of them works within the context of another, spurring us into urgent and transformative climate action. This naturally requires cross-sector institutions to come together to identify and implement solutions. Sectoral approaches will not simply work.
A systemic shift towards nature-based solutions: Nature-based solutions are key to addressing any societal challenges from unemployment to waste. We need to use the pandemic recovery mode to shift gears toward such solutions and ensure a systemic shift in how we run economies, produce, consume, and manage food.
A shift towards driving innovation and leveraging technology: We live in a highly innovative period, with rapid technological developments across all spheres of life. We must work together to leverage emerging technologies to mitigate the effects of climate change. Big data, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, mixed reality and 3D printing are already being used to develop climate solutions.
And while these shifts in the ecosystem are taking place, at a personal level, there are many things that can be immediately taken up. For example, let us consume less, recycle more, advocate, go local, opt to walk or cycle, take public transport instead of driving private cars, say no to plastic and save water to the greatest extent possible. Simply put, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, nothing significant can be achieved if collective and responsible actions are not taken by each and every one of us.
Resident Representative and
Head of Exploration Accelerator Lab, UNDP Bhutan