World Environment Day: preserving resources is an urgent need

On Friday, Jun 5, the world celebrates the World Environment Day to raise awareness of governments and society of responsible use of natural resources

05/06/2020 - 18h11

Photo: Shutterstock

“The protection of the environment, in a broad sense, is the only way we can guarantee the survival of the human life in the future. The World Environment Day is one more initiative to keep that in mind. But, unfortunately, there are many challenges to be faced”. The claim brought forth by Prof. Dr. Nelson Ferreira Fontoura, Director of the Institute for the Environment – PUCRS, is very timely. The need to continue preserving natural resources is directly associated with our quality of life and sustainable economic development. In an effort to put this topic under discussion, the United Nations (UN) has defined Jun 5 as World Environment Day. Established in 1972, the date brings together government officials and various sectors of society in the search for solutions.  

According to the report Nature Risk Rising, published earlier this year by the World Economic Forum, more than half of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (equivalent to approximately 44 trillion dollars) is moderately or highly dependent on nature. The report also points out that more than 70% of people living in the poverty line depend, to a certain extent, on natural resources as a source of income, through activities such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.  

For economist Osmar Tomaz de Souza, professor of the Business School‘s Economics program and Graduate Program in Economicsenvironmental preservation is key to containing the scarcity of natural resources and avoid the socioeconomic consequences generated by environmental problems. “The depletion of these resources is critical and would put even economic growth at risk; this is a relatively old concern in economic science. However, before we run out these resources, we have many problems resulting from the irresponsible use of resources. In other words, just because they become scarcer, they would have deep impacts on the population’s well-being and quality of life. Let us think of the problems that would arise from the depletion of soils, the lack of water, the climatic imbalance associated with deforestation, among others. Life would certainly be much more difficult in such a scenario ”, the professor says.  

The challenges of the present   

For the director of the Institute for the Environment (IMA), environmental problems already have consequences for society at various levels. Fontoura points out that many Brazilian cities are facing the most primary level of environmental and social challenges. “In most cities all over the country, there is shortage of water and the quality of such water is not appropriate for human consumption; there is a lack of basic sanitation, with untreated and open sewage, which has serious consequences for public health and there is also a large amount of waste which is not discarded properly, he says. Data from Instituto Trata Brasil shows that approximately 35 million Brazilians do not have access to water supply and almost 100 million do not have access to sewage system. The data also shows that only 46% of the sewage generated in Brazil is treated.  

The professor also stresses the urgent need to comply with the environmental legislation and invest in supervision bodies. “In general, the Brazilian environmental legislation can significantly preserve our natural heritage. However, material and personnel resources and the political will to implement effective environmental institutions at all levels are lacking, ” Fontoura says.  

Also according to the professor, investing in the structure of environmental agencies, in addition to contributing to preservation, also increases the efficiency of environmental licensing processes. This has a positive impact on economic development. “I agree that the processes must be conducted quickly but the technical quality of the evaluations must be kept. In this sense, by investing in a more robust structure of environmental agencies, whether at the municipal, state, or federal level, the State not only would be protecting the interests of society in the long run and providing a healthier environment, but also be serving economic and immediate social interests, by quickly and efficiently finishing the issuance of licenses for new businesses”, the IMA director says.  

Fontoura points out that, in addition to government problems, it is also necessary to look at individual actions. He warns that we need to reevaluate our consumption habits. “The Earth is not able to sustain the consumption patterns that we have today. We must make the most responsible use of resources: buy only the necessary things; use things until they last; and, if possible, repair to prolong use. We also must prioritize the consumption of products from the local economy, as we boost development and benefit the population. Why not choose products with more environmentally friendly packaging, which can be disposed of at a lower environmental cost? These are all individual decisions, but as the changes in the world we live in and the survival of humanity involves the change of individuals; each and everyone ”, Fontoura stresses.  

Solutions for the future  

For Professor Osmar Tomaz de Souza, with the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing measures, society may follow new habits with different patterns. “I believe that work habits will change significantly. In many areas, working from home is something new. With planning, preparation, development of tools and training, a significant part of everyday tasks can be performed remotely. This will have consequences in terms of urban mobility and the number of people in the streets, for example ”, Souza claims.  

In the economist’s view, we still need to be cautions in the face of uncertainties, but this moment of transition can also be an opportunity to leverage new models of sustainable development. “We need to wait to see if consumption and production patterns will also change, as these are central to sustainability and environmental impacts. Personally, I see that the environmental issues and the principles associated with sustainability are not necessarily restrictive to economic growth. On the contrary, there are great possibilities for investment. Being restricted to just one development model means restricting human creativity to create and do things differently ”, he points out.  

One of the sectors responsible for economic development in Brazil, agribusiness also represents an environmental challenge. Combining agricultural production, preservation of natural resources and economic growth is still a complex puzzle for the country. The project Agrosolar, developed by researchers from the School of Technology’s Multidisciplinary Research Group in Solar Energy Technology (NT-SOLAR), aims to be an alternative to address this challenge. The initiative, originated in 2017, proposes the use of solar energy for agriculture and livestock raising. The project has photovoltaic modules installed in three rural properties in the state of Paraná, and is run by cooperation companies in the region.  

According to professors Adriano Moehlecke and Izete Zanesco, coordinators of NT-Solar, the photovoltaic system has the lowest environmental impact among the forms of energy generation, and has a good cost-benefit ratio. The researchers point out that, in 2019, the results of the project demonstrated a 50% reduction in the electricity bill at one of the participating properties.  

Agrosolar contributed to Goal 7- Sustainable Development Objective defined by the UN: to ensure universal, reliable, modern and affordable access to energy services. Overall, the organization implemented 17 global goals that help partner countries in the search for balance in the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. 

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