Quarter of world's deaths due to environmental damage

A quarter of all premature deaths and diseases worldwide are due to manmade pollution and environmental damage, the United Nations said on Wednesday in a landmark report on the parlous state of the planet.

Deadly smog-inducing emissions, chemicals polluting drinking water and the accelerating destruction of ecosystems crucial to the livelihoods of billions of people are driving a worldwide epidemic that hampers the global economy, it warned.

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) – a report six years in the making compiled by 250 scientists from 70 nations – depicts a growing chasm between rich and poor countries as rampant over-consumption, pollution and food waste in the developed world leads to hunger, poverty and disease elsewhere.

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise amid a preponderance of droughts, floods and superstorms made worse by climbing sea levels, there is a growing political consensus that climate change poses a future risk to billions.

World leaders in 2015 came up with the Paris climate deal, which saw each nation promise action to cut emissions in a bid to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C.

But the health impacts of pollution, deforestation and the mechanised food chain are less well understood.

The GEO compiles a litany of pollution-related health emergencies.

It said that poor environmental conditions cause about 25% of global disease and mortality – about nine-million deaths in 2015 alone.

Lacking access to clean drinking supplies, 1.4-million people die each year from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and parasites linked to pathogen-riddled water and poor sanitation.

Chemicals pumped into the seas cause adverse health effects, and land degradation through mega-farming and deforestation occurs in areas of Earth that are home to 3.2-billion people.

The report says air pollution causes six- to seven- million early deaths annually.

And unchecked use of an tibiotics in food production will see drug-resistant superbugs become the world’s number one cause of premature death by mid-century.

“Urgent action at an unprecedented scale is necessary to arrest and reverse this situation,” the report said.

Without a fundamental retooling of the global economy to more sustainable production lines, the report’s authors warn that the very concept of GDP growth could become meaningless against the cost of lost lives, work hours and concomitant treatment expenses.

“If you have a healthy planet it supports not only global GDP but it also supports the lives of the very poorest because they depend on clean air and clean water,” GEO co-chair Joyeeta Gupta said.

The report called for the detoxifying of human behaviour, while insisting that the situation was not unassailable.

For instance, food waste, which accounts for 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, could be slashed.

The world throws away a third of all food produced. –