03 Nov 2017 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Our way of life is piling pressure on ecosystems

Carbon dioxide emissions from modern society are making the oceans more acidic, and the situation is being exacerbated by climate change, pollution, coastal development, overfishing and agricultural fertilizers, a major new study suggests.

Ocean acidification is happening because as carbon dioxide from fossil fuels dissolves in seawater, it produces carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the water.

The assessment comes from the BIOACID project, which is led from Germany. The eight-year study involving over 250 scientists finds infant sea creatures will be especially harmed, the BBC reports.
Meanwhile, microplastics in seawater are being ingested by small organisms. Small fish are eating these organisms, and we are eating the bigger fish that eat them. There is even evidence that plastic particles in the oceans, which cover 70 per cent of our planet, can spread dangerous pathogens.

On land, toxic chemical waste from factories, sewage from cities, noxious fumes from transport systems, plastic pollution in our cities, and human-induced peatland fires are just some of the things degrading the ecological foundation of sustainable development.

Intensive farming implies excessive use of fertilizer to maximize crop yields and profits, but at what cost? Run-off from such farms is impairing the quality of our lakes and drinking water sources. In extreme cases the nutrient load from such activities (mainly in the form of nitrates and phosphorus) leads to algal blooms on lakes, rendering them useless, even hazardous.
All forms of pollution impair or degrade the ecosystem goods and services we take for granted – like clean air, freshwater, wood, or the health and recreational benefits afforded by the great outdoors.


With a rapidly growing population, the world will need more energy, more water and more food in the future, placing an even greater burden on already fragile ecosystems. The trick is to adopt a middle road that delivers results for biodiversity, energy, food and jobs. The good news is that consumer, technology and governance solutions exist that can support a move towards sustainable practices.

“UN Environment’s role in this is to help highlight the problems and broker practical, cost-effective, science-based solutions,” says UN Environment ecosystems expert Niklas Hagelberg. “Ultimately, human health and well-being depend on the very ecosystems which nurture us and of which we are a part.”

Vital statistics

  • By 2030, the world will require 40 per cent more water, 50 per cent more food, 40 per cent more energy and 40 per cent more timber and fibre.
  • Nearly 30 per cent of people still lack safe drinking water.
  • 55 per cent of US rivers and streams are in poor condition.
  • A 2015 study found that 25 per cent of fish sold at markets in Indonesia and the US had plastic or other man-made debris in their guts.
  • 75 per cent of honey contains traces of pesticide.
  • A 75 per cent decline in flying insects in German protected areas has been observed over the last 27 years.

Last month, UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim published Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, which sets out a clear framework for action on pollution. The report will inform the UN Environment Assembly, which will gather from 4-6 December in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme of pollution. All governments as well as individuals, businesses and other organizations are invited to sign the pledge and help #BeatPollution around the world.

For more information:
Niklas Hagelberg Niklas.Hagelberg[at]unep.org
Media enquiries: unepnewsdesk[at]unep.org