A comprehensive United Nations report released on Wednesday found that while global human health is under dire threat from the climate crisis and industrial pollution, there is still a window for bold and urgent action if world leaders would but seize it.

“We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now.”
—Joyce Msuya, U.N. Environment

The United Nations Environment Programme’s Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), described as the most rigorous climate assessment released by the international body in the last five years, warned that continued inaction from policy-makers could result in millions of premature deaths from air pollution and other factors throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa by mid-century.

The report also highlighted rapidly increasing rates of species extinction.

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“At present,” the authors note, “42 percent of terrestrial invertebrates, 34 percent of freshwater invertebrates, and 25 percent of marine invertebrates are considered at risk of extinction.”

Without “urgent action at an unprecedented scale,” the report said, the “ecological foundations of society” are at risk of collapse.

Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-chairs of the GEO-6 process, said in a statement that all the technology, policy ideas, and money needed to bring about ambitious global changes already exist.

“What is currently lacking is the political will to implement policies and technologies at a sufficient speed and scale,” they said.

To avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis and ensure a livable future for all, the report calls on policy-makers to focus on transforming the world’s food, energy, and waste systems by:

  • Aggressively moving to slash carbon emissions and investing in green energy;
  • Transitioning to more sustainable forms of food production and less meat-intensive diets; and
  • Creating a “circular economy” that “uses waste as a resource.”