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Humanity Has Exceeded Four of the Planet’s Nine Ecological Boundaries: ECLAC

The organization’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, gave a keynote speech today at the Ibero-American University, Mexico City, where she warned that the development model is tapped out and called for creating a culture of equality with sustainability.

20 August 2018|Press Release

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, warned today that humanity has exceeded four of the planet’s nine ecological boundaries and affirmed that the development model is tapped out, which makes forging a culture of equality an urgent necessity.

ECLAC’s most senior representative gave a keynote speech in the framework of the colloquium “University and Sustainability in Mexico,” organized by the Ibero-American University, Mexico City.

In addition to Alicia Bárcena, the other participants in the event were Martha Delgado, environmentalist and former Secretary of the Environment of Mexico City; Enrique Leff, economist and environmental sociologist; Julia Carabias, biologist and academic from the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and Leonardo Boff, theologian, philosopher, writer, professor and Brazilian ecologist.

During her presentation, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary shared an analysis regarding the socioeconomic and environmental context at a regional and global level, and she addressed the main trends and structural gaps that characterize the region’s development.

She also referred to the scourge of inequality that prevails in the Latin American region and exposed the culture of privilege and its expressions.

“We have already exceeded at least four of the nine ecological boundaries of the planet,” Alicia Bárcena warned.

More specifically, she said that in terms of climate change, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide should not exceed 350 parts per million (ppm), however, we are at 400 ppm. With regard to the extinction of species and loss of biodiversity, 84% of the species in Africa are already extinct.

Regarding the addition of phosphorous, nitrogen (and other elements) to crops and ecosystems, the amount established for worldwide use per year is approximately 11 teragrams (Tg) of phosphorous and 62 Tg of nitrogen. However, she said, values today are around 22 Tg of phosphorous and 150 Tg of nitrogen.

In terms of deforestation and land use, “we should have kept 75% of the original forests but the world today has just 62%,” she stated, adding that “Latin America as a whole is a mega-diverse region and possibly the only one that will remain in terms of water reserves and biodiversity.”

The senior United Nations official sustained that the economic, social and environmental pillars of the reigning development model are tapped out, which expresses itself in declining rates for GDP and trade, inequality that is manifested in a disparate rise in income that benefits the elite and hurts the global middle class to a larger extent, and in climate change, the biggest market failure of all.

“What most worries us at ECLAC is inequality. It can’t be that the world’s poorest 50%, 3.5 billion people, have wealth that is equivalent to that of 62 individuals, eight of whom belong to the big technological companies,” Alicia Bárcena said.

She added that the 2030 Agenda, approved in 2015 by the 193 countries represented at the United Nations General Assembly, is proof that the world understood that it was not possible to continue with this development model, which is not sustainable.

Latin America and the Caribbean needs to think about a new equation between the State, the market and society, incorporating academia, Bárcena continued.

Finally, the most senior representative of the United Nations regional organization underscored that there are three dimensions in constant tension: the culture of privilege versus the culture of equality; the distribution of the profits of productivity between capital and labor; and rentism and extractivism, which do not allow for managing natural resources with governance.

“Inequality conspires against development. We must look at the inequalities that overlap and reinforce each other. We must equalize to grow, and grow to equalize,” she concluded.

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