The IPCC has indicated that urgent climate action that we take right now can secure our planet and provide a liveable future for our children
Reading Richard Louv’s book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ helped me understand how human health and well-being are connected with nature. The fact that ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in urban populations has increased and is leading to physical and mental health issues concerns me deeply. Each day I consciously choose to help my children recognise their connection with nature. My toddler thanks ‘Mama Earth’ for the water he loves to bathe in, the meals that he enjoys, and the many happy hours he spends in the lap of nature – playing with mud, watching birds and learning the names of plants and animals.
My daughter, too, enjoys the holidays we curate to experience nature at its purest in a mysterious forest, near a river, or on the edge of an ocean. Because I grew up in an environment where I had unfettered access to trees and lush biodiversity, I want the same for my son and daughter, and I firmly believe that helping our children form a connection with nature is as important as providing them with a safe home, education, and a healthy life.
However, I am also aware that, despite our best intentions to secure their well-being, it is not entirely within our control to ensure the health of the planet they are going to inherit from us. We are, after all, raising our children in the midst of a triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution and waste, and biodiversity loss.
I cannot even begin to imagine the full extent of the reality facing us and the impact it will have on the future of our children. As a concerned parent, I feel compelled to look for answers, take individual action, and also work fervently with organisations and climate warriors to find ways to heal the planet.
The key to lasting change, I feel, is learning the facts about climate change and understanding the interconnectedness between humans and the planet. How can anyone not acknowledge that the air our children breathe, the food they eat, the water they drink, and the resources they need to support their lives all come from nature? How can we not see that when air, food, and water are poisoned by pollution, the all-encompassing destruction of nature will threaten our children’s existence as well?
Extreme climate events are clearly showing that greenhouse gas emissions, erosion of biodiversity, and disrupted ecosystems are degrading the services that nature provides. Services like an unbroken cycle for clean water, a healthy food web, bees pollinating our fruit trees, and birds to keep rodents and insects in check are vital for our survival.
We need to repair our relationship with the planet. Climate change and changes in rainfall will lead to an increase in zoonotic diseases, accelerate disease transmission, and increase the risk of antimicrobial resistance. We are already witnessing extreme weather events: wildfires, glaciers melting, sea level rising, causing disruptions in food production, displacing people, and creating a plethora of social, economic, physical, and mental health issues. Livelihoods are being destabilised, and people are unable to cope with climate change, which aggravates existing poverty conditions. Therefore, making better choices individually and collectively must become a priority.
Air quality is critical for human survival
Poor air quality contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, lung cancer, and asthma, and impairs the growth of our children's lungs. While natural phenomena like forest fires and volcanic eruptions can impact air quality, human reliance on fossil fuels, transport activities, and industrial processes are the primary drivers of air pollution. The effects of air pollution are particularly severe in densely populated urban areas, where the concentration of pollutants is often high. Household air pollution causes over 3 million deaths per year, disproportionately affecting women and children. Therefore, to protect human health, it is crucial to improve air quality, reduce emissions, promote clean energy solutions, and ensure scientific waste management.
We cannot afford a broken and polluted water cycle
Pollution poisons not just the air we breathe but also chokes our waterways. 11 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year even though access to clean water is essential for hydration, sanitation, and hygiene. Water pollution can be visible or invisible, like heavy metals or microbes. Unfortunately, many people around the world lack access to clean water, and polluted water sources are causing waterborne illnesses such as cholera, dysentery, and hepatitis to spread. And yet, all over the world, water systems continue to be polluted by industrial waste dumping, agricultural runoff, and sewage disposal. Without preserving water quality, we cannot safeguard human health and must focus on the protection and restoration of water bodies, proper water treatment strategies, efficient waste management, and pollution reduction.
We need the food web to be healthy
Access to safe, nutritious food is crucial for good health. However, climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation are already affecting food production and will lead to dire food shortages and malnutrition if we don't heed the warning bells now. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities. Droughts, floods, fluctuating weather cycles, soil erosion, and unsustainable farming practises are not just reducing crop yield but also diminishing the nutritional quality of harvests. Similarly, pollution in oceans is killing the fish stock, which is also being depleted by overfishing. To ensure that food security for millions of people worldwide is not threatened, it is essential to promote sustainable agricultural and fishing practises. An unhealthy planet cannot guarantee our health or the well-being of future generations.
Biodiversity is essential for our well-being
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on the earth, including plants, animals, and microorganisms. Biodiversity plays a critical role in carrying out pollination, water filtration, and pest control, which humans depend on. Unfortunately, human activities are causing massive deforestation and habitat destruction, and the introduction of invasive species has also led to a significant loss of biodiversity in recent years. The degradation of the earth’s land surface through human activities is negatively impacting the well-being of over three billion people.
The loss of biodiversity can have severe consequences for all of us, leading to the emergence of new diseases, reducing food security, and diminishing natural resources. The delicate web of nature is at risk with one million species facing the possibility of extinction. Protecting biodiversity is non-negotiable. The need to act and to rapidly change course is exceedingly clear.
• The latest IPCC report makes it clear that the current global warming of 1.1°C is severely harming natural and human systems and disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to the climate crisis. The report warns that the window of opportunity is closing rapidly as the world continues on the path to exceed 1.5°C of warming within the next decade. As temperatures rise, so will climate hazards, and hence, governments, businesses, collectives, and individuals must act now to ensure that the unthinkable does not happen.
• Transforming the food system is critical to addressing climate change, as it is responsible for about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions, with agricultural production, unsustainable land use, and supply chain activities being the largest contributors. The required transformations for this system include shifting diets, protecting natural ecosystems, making food production sustainable, and decarbonising the food chain.
• The shift to renewable energy and other alternatives to fossil fuels needs to be accelerated. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for an end to the global addiction to fossil fuels and to jumpstart the renewable energy revolution. This will require investing in new technologies, ensuring a just and equitable transition, and creating more green jobs.
• The deep transformations we need will also require us to embrace the concept of circularity in the economy to protect natural resources and keep waste out of the environment through reuse, repurposing, repairing, and more. This can help reduce the emissions from heedless production and consumption patterns that define the "take-make-waste" economy ailing our planet.
• Developed and industrialised nations must also support vulnerable nations and communities to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis and help them protect their ecosystems that serve as barriers to climate hazards. Fighting climate change in the end is a collective responsibility, and no one is safe until everyone is.
• Without addressing nature preservation and restoration, efforts to avert climate change will go in vain. We need nature to protect us from ocean swells, trees and vegetation to slow flood waters, wetlands to release water when it’s too dry, and pollinators to secure the diversity of plants and food staples that we need and use. We need to protect what we still have and restore what has been destroyed.
The writing on the wall is clear: the fate of the planet is intertwined with ours. The IPCC report provides us with a clear roadmap of climate-resilient development and has indicated that urgent climate action that we take right now can secure our planet and provide a liveable future for our children. It is now up to us to facilitate the transformational change that is needed to create a sustainable, equitable world for our children and all Earth citizens.
(Dia Mirza is an actor, producer, eco-investor, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador & United Nations Secretary-General’s Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals and Global Ambassador International Fund for Animal Welfare.)