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Articles and Reports on the State of the Planet

Worse than You Think

Herman Greene

A number of significant articles and reports on the state of Earth have come out in the last year. These reports cover the continuing degradation of Earth’s life systems and loss of biodiversity, and they indicate an increasingly difficult path to meeting goals for global warming and preserving a habitable planet for humans and other species. On the good side they also show increasing concern and involvement of people and organizations at every level for responding to these challenges.

None of these reports is definitive. There are many uncertainties in matters reported on and in future projections. On the whole though they give a consistent message for ecozoans to take into account.

The most succinct and impactful article is Corey Bradshaw, et al, “Challenges of a Ghastly Future,” published by Frontiers in Conservation Science, (January 19, 2021). Here is their description of what they cover in the article:

  • First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action. Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.

On Friday, February 26, 2021, the United Nations Climate Change division (technically the UNFCC-the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) issued a Synthesis Report on the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. The NDCs are the voluntary pledges nations have made to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The press release for the report was entitled “Greater Climate Ambition Urged as Initial NDC Synthesis Report Is Published.” It stated that if all current NDCS were met, GHG emissions in 2030 would be reduced by only 1% over 2010 levels as compared with the 45% reduction by 2030 assessed to be needed limit temperature rise to 1.5o Celsius. At present even the commitments in the NDCs are not being met and emissions in 2030 are on track to exceed 2010 levels.

There are a several other important recent reports from the United Nations on the state of the planet, as follows:

In addition, this very important UN report is forthcoming:

  • IPCC, Sixth Assessment Report. The first part of the report will be the physical science basis in April 2021 and then Climate Change in June 2021. The full report will be published by the end of 2021.

On Environment Day, June 5,2021, the UN will launch the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. The Executive Summary of the Strategy and other resources related to this program are available here.

On February 6, 2020, Future Earth released a report entitled Our Future on Earth 2020: Science Insights into our Planet and Society. The website announcement for the report states “Our Future on Earth 2020 aims to tell the story of where we are on our collective journey by connecting the dots between what society is currently experiencing—from fires to food shortages to a rise in populism—with recent developments in the research community.” The report covers (i) global risks, (ii) climate, (iii) politics, (iv) ocean, (v) forced migration, (vi) media, (vii) biodiversity, (viii) finance, (ix) food, (x) transformation, and (xi) digital innovation.