Article image

UNEP report identifies the biggest emerging environmental threats

A new report from the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) has named three major environmental threats. First is the increasing threat of wildfires, which are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change. Next, the report describes the growing threat of noise pollution and the problems that come with it. Lastly, the experts highlight the issue of phenological mismatches, or the disruption of timing in natural systems and life cycles.

“The Frontiers Report identifies and offers solutions to three environmental issues that merit attention and action from governments and the public at large,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Urban noise pollution, wildfires and phenological shifts – the three topics of this Frontiers report – are issues that highlight the urgent need to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.”

Fires burned up an average of 423 million hectares of land between 2002 and 2016. Approximately 67 percent of the area consumed by all types of fires was in Africa. Wildfires, despite being natural, are on the rise due to climate change. Smoke from fires causes health problems for humans and other animals. Fires also release carbon, making them a contributor to climate change in a sort of positive feedback loop. 

“The report calls for greater investment in reducing the risks of wildfires; development of prevention and response management approaches that include vulnerable, rural, traditional and indigenous communities; and further refinements in remote sensing capabilities, such as satellites, radar and lightning detection,” said UNEP.

Noise pollution is often overlooked as an environmental threat. Prolonged noise can harm human health and well-being and disrupt other animals as well. Unwanted human noises can disrupt communications between insects, amphibians, birds and other animals. It is estimated that noise pollution already leads to 12,000 premature human deaths every year in the EU alone. Natural sounds have a positive impact on human health, however, and it is recommended that urban planners focus on prioritizing natural sounds over unwanted human disturbances. 

Climate change is also disrupting the natural life cycle changes in animals and plants. Critical processes such as reproduction, migration, and hibernation are all impacted by climate change. The problem arises when there is a mismatch in the timing among plant and animal species that are dependent on each other. 

“Phenology is the timing of recurring life cycle stages, driven by environmental forces, and how, within an ecosystem, interacting species respond to the changing conditions,” wrote the experts. 

“Phenological shifts occur when species shift the timing of life cycle stages in response to changing environmental conditions altered by climate change. The concern is that interacting species in an ecosystem do not always shift the timing in the same direction or at the same rate.

These phenological shifts are increasingly disturbed by climate change, pushing plants and animals out of sync with their natural rhythms and leading to mismatches, such as when plants shift life cycle stages faster than herbivores.”

“Long-distance migrants are particularly vulnerable to phenological change. Local climatic cues that normally trigger migration may no longer accurately predict conditions at their destination and resting sites along the route.”

According to the experts, the full impacts of these looming environmental threats require further research. With proper planning, it is possible that we can get a handle on many aspects of these issues before it is too late.    

The latest edition of the Frontiers Report has been released days before the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day