She said human activity had significantly altered a staggering three quarters of all land, and two-thirds of the marine environment.
She noted that one-third of the earth’s surface land was now used for crop and livestock production; adding that the same goes for nearly 75 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources.
Madam Espinosa said this in her presentation at the Council of Foreign Relations, Ghana, public lecture series in Accra.
She recounted that earlier this week, the UN’s Global Assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystems was released; stating that “One of the press headlines simply read: we are in trouble”.
She said: “Based on more than 15,000 academic studies by 400 experts in some 50 countries, as well as reports from indigenous peoples, the report warned that nearly one million animal and plant species are at the risk of extinction.”
“Bee colonies are collapsing. Coral reefs are dying. Rainforests are drying into Savannahs. The ecosystems on which our lives and livelihoods depend are deteriorating rapidly, not to speak of desertification that is expanding in Africa and other parts of the world. And we are to blame.”
Madam Espinosa, who is on a four-day visit to Ghana spoke on theme “Responding to global challenges in a fast-changing world: the case for strengthening multilateralism”.
She said plastic pollution – one of her priority issues for this session of the General Assembly – had increased ten-fold since 1980, contributing to over 400 ocean “dead zones”.
“This alone is a crisis of epic proportions. But it is only one of the pressing challenges we face.”
Madam Espinosa said the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change had warned that we have just 11 years to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
She noted that this would require us to reach “peak carbon” next year. According to the Climate Action Tracker, current pledges under the Paris Agreement put us on course for 2.4 to 3.8-degree rise – and a future of widespread poverty, water scarcity, hunger, displacement and conflict.
“We urgently need to increase our ambition. We urgently need to unlock the benefits of climate-smart growth – this of course with the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates could be as much as $26 trillion in the next decade,” Madam Espinosa stated.
She said at the same time, humanity needs to address long-standing challenges.
“One in 10 of us still lives in extreme poverty – 80 per cent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. One in three of us do not have safe drinking water.”
She said at least, half the global population lacked access to proper sanitation, to social protection and to essential health services.
“People are forced into impossible choices: food or medicine? Education or treatment?,” she quizzed.
“And it is still the case that if you are a woman, an older person, a person with disabilities, or from a rural, minority or indigenous community, you are more likely to be disadvantaged, marginalised and subjected to human rights abuses or violence.”
Mrs Mary Chinery-Hesse, Chancellor of the University of Ghana, who chaired the function, mentioned that the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a benchmark for the protection of fundamental human rights, the promotion of peace and security across the world, the adoption and promotion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were all enviable accomplishments by the UN General Assembly.
“Our world, today is however, at the crossroad; and continue to face common and pressing challenges which require joint action by all nations for resolution.
Mr Daniel K. Osei, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ghana, said there was the need to adequately prepare the youth for future.