Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP

Home > Drivers > Pollution

Pollution is the introduction or presence of a harmful substance in the environment. Pollution occurs in many forms. It is not only one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, but also a relevant factor in the development of disaster risk. It is also among the immediate factors that push us towards a tipping point. For example, pollution of terrestrial or marine habitats can lead to a food crisis in a region. Similarly, poor management of waste can increase the likelihood of disasters and reaching a tipping point, for instance if we keep polluting a global commons such as space. Disasters such as floods or chemical explosions magnify impacts, for example by contaminating freshwater sources or transporting industrial pollutants close to food sources or vulnerable communities.

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A chain reaction to ecosystem collapse

Losing our eyes in the sky

Lagos faces increasingly severe annual flooding, exacerbated by sea level rise and subsidence. In 2021, floods again submerged vehicles and houses, displacing thousands from their homes.

During the 2020-2021 typhoon season, for the first time in 56 years, no typhoon made landfall on Taiwan, leading to one of the worst droughts in the island’s history. As reservoirs fell below 5% capacity, more than one million households and businesses had to ration water.

Chinese Paddlefish have been around for an estimated 200 million years, but were declared extinct in 2020. While overfishing and pollution played an accelerating role, much of its demise can be attributed to the multiple dam constructions on the Yangtze River.

During summer 2020, around 2,300 km of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was affected by a record mass bleaching event where corals expel their algae and turn white. Over 25% of the Great Barrier Reef suffered severe bleaching, seriously threatening them with extinction.

Explore more from the 2023 report