"Human health is in a desperate situation if urgent measures are not taken to protect the environment," writes the United Nations (UN) in a report on the State of the planet published Wednesday, 13 March 2019.
According to the United Nations, a quarter of premature deaths and diseases around the world are linked to human pollution and environmental damage.
Emissions responsible for air pollution, chemicals contaminating drinking water and the accelerated destruction of ecosystems necessary for the survival of billions of people cause a kind of global epidemic that also hinders economy, according to the text.
This Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report, on which 250 scientists from 70 countries worked for six years, also underlines a widening gap between rich and poor countries: over-consumption, pollution and waste food in the North precipitate famine, poverty and disease in the South.
"We are either considerably intensifying the protection of the environment, i.e. the cities and regions of Asia, the Middle East and Africa could experience millions of premature deaths by the middle of the century," the document explains.
Contaminated water and degraded land
The Paris agreement of 2015 aims to limit warming to + 2 °c, or even 1.5 °c, in relation to the pre-industrial era, in particular by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the health impacts of pollution, deforestation or an industrialized food chain are less well known, and there is no international agreement on the environment equivalent to that of Paris on climate.
Due to lack of access to drinking water, 1.4 million people die each year from preventable diseases, such as diarrhoea or parasites related to contaminated waters. Offshore chemicals cause potentially negative health effects over several generations, and 3.2 billion people live on land degraded by intensive agriculture or deforestation.
And as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, climate change, such as droughts or storms, is likely to add to the burden of billions of people.
Report without concessions
The GEO report published on Wednesday, which uses hundreds of data sources to calculate the environmental impact on a hundred diseases, compiles a series of sanitary emergencies related to pollution of all kinds.
"Mediocre" environmental conditions are responsible for "about 25% of global deaths and diseases", according to the text, which talks about 9 million deaths related to environmental pollution in 2015.
The report also estimates that air pollution causes 6 to 7 million premature deaths each year.
As for the unbridled use of antibiotics in food production, it may lead to the birth of Super-resistant bacteria that could become the leading cause of premature death by the mid-century.
"Urgent and unprecedented action is needed to stop and reverse the situation," says the summary for the decision-makers accompanying the report.
Without a reorganization of the global economy towards more sustainable production, the concept of growth could become meaningless in the face of the deaths and costs of treatment, the authors believe.
"The central message is that if you have a healthy planet, it supports not only the global growth but also the lives of the poorest people who depend on clean air and fresh water," says AFP Joyeeta Gupta, co-Chair of GEO.
"Conversely, a poor health system causes immense damage to human lives. »
The report notes, however, that the situation is not irreparable, calling in particular for the reduction of CO2 emissions and the use of pesticides. Food wastage could also be reduced, while the world throws a third of the food produced (56% in the richest countries) into garbage.
"Everyone says that by 2050 we will have to feed 10 billion people, but that does not mean we have to double the production," insists Joyeeta Gupta, arguing in particular for a decline in livestock.
But that "would cause a change in lifestyles," she admits.
The publication of this report during the General Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi should feed into the debate on the issue of liability for damage to the Earth.
According to sources close to the negotiations, some wealthy countries, the United States in the lead, threaten not to "Welcome" the report, a bad sign in the hope of a possible future agreement on the reduction of wastage, over-consumption and pollution.
But small or large countries will have to adapt to the reality of their environment, says Gupta. "If you look at fresh water, it's more or less (a volume) fixed," she notes, for example. "You'll have to end up sharing. This is a speech that many developed countries do not like. "