The United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, on Thursday published the new edition of its environmental report, Frontiers, which revealed that “fires are happening, more severely and more frequently, urban noise pollution is becoming a global health problem and disorders in the life cycles in nature are causing ecological consequences.”
Inger Andersen, executive director, UNEP, stated that the report “identifies and offers solutions to three environmental issues that merit attention and action by governments and the general public”.
According to Andersen, “urban noise pollution, fires and changes in biological processes are problems that highlight the urgency of addressing the triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity.”
This is the fourth edition of the report, and the first published four years before the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2016, warned about the great risk of zoonotic diseases.
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Experts note that the increase in noise levels is one of the main environmental problems of modern cities. Noise affects the mental and physical health of people of all age groups; it causes sleep disturbances, irritation and headaches, and can also contribute to the development of hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes and permanent hearing loss.
One of the solutions proposed by UNEP is for urban planning projects to take into account the reduction of noise at the source and for urban infrastructures to create “soundscapes” such as belts of trees, green walls, gardens on top of buildings, and more green spaces in the cities.
Regarding fires, UNEP reveals that the situation will get worse. Due to climate change, with warmer temperatures and drier climates, projections show that fires will be more intense and frequent. In addition to the dangers to human health, there will be massive losses of biodiversity, threatening more than 4,400 terrestrial and aquatic species.
Between 2002 and 2016, for example, around 423 million hectares of land, an area equivalent to the size of the European Union, was burned, most commonly in mixed forests or savannas. UNEP estimates that 67% of all types of fires took place on the African continent.
The report calls for more investment to reduce fire risks, the development of prevention and response programmes that include rural and indigenous communities, and the use of satellites and radars.
The third alert made by the UN agency is related to phenology, a term used for the stages of life cycles that occur due to environmental forces.
UNEP explains that plants and animals of all kinds use temperatures, length of days or rainfall to know when to bloom leaves and flowers, bear fruit, build nests, produce pollen or migrate.
Climate change is affecting these cycles, causing plants or animals to be out of sync with their natural rhythms. The problem mainly affects long-distance migratory species, which may fail to accurately predict what the weather conditions will be at the destination location.
UNEP reveals that more research is needed on the phenomenon, but stresses that it is essential to limit global warming rates by reducing CO2 emissions.