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Peace Treaty with Nature

Peace Treaty with Nature

Sunday, 24 October, 2021 - 04:15
Najib Saab
Secretary-General of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) and editor-in-chief of Environment & Development magazine

When the Glasgow Climate Summit kicks off in a week, all eyes will be on what new commitments world leaders will make to cut carbon emissions and finance climate change programs. However, all of these measures remain confined to a circumstantial management of the symptoms, and fall short of a permanent solution to the cause of the problem, which is the unfettered depletion of natural resources. Therefore, any radical solution to the challenges of climate, biodiversity and pollution would be based on a sort of peace treaty between humans and nature. This means establishing a real balance between development and the environment, which is the essence of sustainable development.

Since 1970, the world has entered the phase of resource deficit, as the volume of consumption and discharge began to exceed the capacity of nature to replenish and assimilate. The situation has worsened over the past 50 years so that humans now need one new Earth, 70 percent bigger than the present one, to secure their basic needs and absorb their waste. Arabs are no different from the rest of the world in this regard. A study conducted by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), in partnership with the Global Footprint Network, showed that the demand of Arab countries for nature's products and services exceeds twice what the natural systems in these countries can provide in terms of renewable resources, or absorb it in the form of waste.

Some may find this an exaggeration; for how can the world survive 50 years after crossing the red line of Earth's ability to endure? The answer is that the disasters we are witnessing today are one of the first results of this wastefulness. Humanity has become addicted to borrowing from nature beyond its ability to renew its resources and expand its absorptive capacity, and this is sort of robbing the rights of future generations, because the time to pay up is inevitably coming, and it will extend for generations. If countries are able to postpone their financial debts for decades, through economic maneuvers, financial gimmicks and printing paper banknotes, they cannot print air, water and soil to cover the bankruptcy of nature as a result of wrong policies.

Earth must retain the capacity to support life, secure resources, and absorb waste. Over the past 50 years, the world economy has grown nearly fivefold, while the volume of trade has tripled. While the population increased to about 8 billion, the poor exceeded 1.3 billion and the hungry exceeded 700 million. During the same period, the volume of toxic and harmful gas emissions into the atmosphere, along with all kinds of polluting wastes on land and at sea, doubled many times. The use of land space and natural resources increased 3 times.

But the picture is not hopeless, and the option for change is still available. Recent years have seen the beginning of initiatives to limit the deterioration, including the development of sustainable economic and financial systems, the move towards promoting healthy food, improving water quality, and cleaning up the energy sector. Initiatives have also been launched to stop emissions by 2050, improve waste management, consume resources more efficiently while embracing the principles of reuse and recycling, and protect land and oceans by investing in them in a more sustainable manner. The problem is that all these initiatives have been timid and slow, while the systematic destruction of nature went at a faster pace.

Raw material extraction and energy production have tripled in 50 years. Human activity affecting nature has expanded to cover three-quarters of land area and two-thirds of ocean area. Knowing that land-use activities are responsible for 25 percent of climate change today, the situation will worsen, with only 10 percent of natural land expected to be preserved by 2050.

Biodiversity continues to perilously and rapidly decline, with 1 million out of 8 million plant and animal species entering the cycle of extinction. This is mainly due to uncontrolled human activities under the pretext of accelerating development and meeting human needs. But the extinction of species, the degradation of land and oceans, and the decline of nature services are factors that also affect the quality of human life, which depends on the renewable products of nature and its carrying capacity. Land degradation alone adversely affects the lives of more than 3 billion people.

A recent review by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that all 11 goals agreed upon 30 years ago to conserve biodiversity have fallen short of being implemented, and many of these goals are linked to mitigating climate change, such as the loss of natural habitats, forests, protected areas and agriculture, fisheries and coral reefs.

Altering people's relationship with nature remains the key to building a sustainable future. However, this transformation calls for a radical change in the technological, economic and social systems, and a change in the prevailing consumption patterns, which tolerates the unlimited depletion of resources. Some also consider that placing restrictions on certain consumption patterns that are harmful to the natural balance is an attack on personal freedoms.

The importance of protecting the balance in nature is not limited to providing sustainable sources of production for human life, but also goes beyond to safeguarding human health. It has been shown that animals are the source of 75 percent of new infectious diseases, and that 700,000 potentially dangerous viruses that appear in animals may pose a threat to humans. Therefore, the risks of deadly infectious viruses, such as Corona, can be mitigated by limiting the violation of natural habitats, and by placing restrictions on the indiscriminate mixing of human activities with wildlife.

We have to stop deluding ourselves that technology can fix all our mistakes and absolve our sins. It is absurd to search for sustainable solutions to environmental, developmental and climate challenges, before we reach a peace treaty with nature.

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