WASHINGTON—The world economy’s transition toward a global green economy “is not only possible, but it is already on the way,” Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said Wednesday.

But Steiner said that unless nations start acting now to lay the foundation for future industry and social infrastructure, earth’s natural resources will face continued devastation.

“We are faced with the prospect of reaching an ecological tipping point,” Steiner said. “Whether it is the melting of the artic, whether it is the loss of major tropical forest due to climate change…whether it is the destruction of coral reefs…or smaller things, like the impacts we seem to be having on pollinators and bees in particular.”

In developing countries, the harm caused by unrestricted carbon-emissions is more tangible, Richenda Van Leeuwen, senior director of energy access at United Nations Foundation.

In Africa, two million women and children die a year from harmful air quality caused by poor cooking facilities, he said. “That’s more than die of malaria a year.”

The discussion came at a panel hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies to discuss the UN’s report, “Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development” that was released last month. The report urged government action to foster ‘green economies.’

The report outlines policy guidelines which UNEP feels can aid in the foundation of an environmental sustainable and economically profitable ‘green economy.’ Hopes for a green economy includes growth in the green job sector which “over time will exceed the losses in ‘brown economy’ jobs as well as a replenishment of safe food and water sources for developing countries, “the report said.

It found the major obstacles toward developing green economies are the social and economic costs.

“The idea that you threaten growth and prosperity by enacting policy for a green economy is highly suspicious,” said Steiner.

It is imperative that leading nations are, “cognizant and answerable to these social and economic objectives,” Steiner said.

However, the bipartisan-split in today’s Congress may hinder the United States’ transition to a green economy.

Looking forward, the “conversations about economic cooperation and global financing [concerning] the United States’ role will be very interesting and complicated,” said Kate Gordon, vice president of energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

We are at risk of getting even further behind over the next two years. We have extreme partisan gridlock on some of these issues,” Gordon said. “Two-thirds of the new Congress are climate deniers.”