North America is rich in natural capital and according to the IMF, Canada has the third highest total estimated value of natural resources, valued at US$33 trillion, with the U.S. following closely behind as the 7th highest.
While progress has been made in protecting many individual species, much biodiversity is at risk in the region. Increasing pressures from land use change, invasive species, climate change, and pollution are affecting land and coastal marine environments.
We are on the brink of a global mass extinction of species, with 1 million of earth’s 8 million species currently in danger of disappearing. In Canada and the U.S., we have seen nearly 30% of our birds disappear in the last 50 years.
We depend on nature to sustain livelihoods, but as a region of avid consumers, we also depend on nature to support our lifestyles. We are consuming resources in a quantity that exceeds the planet’s capacity to regenerate. In North America alone, 25-30% of food is wasted each year, which translates to 18 million hectares of wasted cropland, amounting to US$255million in biodiversity loss.
North American’s disposal of single-use plastics is also on the rise, partly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has serious impacts on biodiversity as plastic waste threatens rivers, lakes, and oceans. It is predicted that by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish by volume, and scientists estimate that 94% of tap water in the United States is contaminated by microplastic fibers.
Air quality in the region has been improving, but air pollution remains the largest environmental health challenge in North America. Over 40% of the U.S. population – about 134 million people – face health risks resulting from air pollution, according to the American Lung Association, and the improvements in air quality are not evenly distributed.
The region has also been facing devastating impacts from a changing climate, with wildfires scorching the U.S. West Coast, storms and floods plundering vulnerable communities in the South, and ice shelves collapsing in Northern Canada. These challenges are expected to grow in intensity and frequency as global temperatures continue to rise.
The UNEP North America office addresses these and other challenges through our work that contributes to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. We want to ensure that the environment plays a central role across all decision-making and focuses on green economic development while taking advantage of advances in science and technology.
We are working with governments, the private sector, civil society and with other UN entities and organizations throughout North America to inspire, inform and enable the region and its citizens improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.