World remains on unsustainable track despite hundreds of internationally agreed goals and objectives
Press release: June 6, 2012
The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human wellbeing, summarizes the Global Environment Outlook report (GEO) that reviews the state, trends and outlook of the global environment.
The report is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and several researchers at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) have provided valuable input to the fifth edition of the report.
The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), launched on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, assessed 90 of the most important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four. The report cautions that if humanity does not urgently change its ways, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which abrupt and generally irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur.
Significant progress have been made in eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment. Some progress was shown in 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as National Parks and efforts to reduce deforestation.
Little or no progress was detected for 24 goals – including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought. Further deterioration was posted for eight goals including the state of the world‘s coral reefs, while no assessment was made of 14 other goals due to a lack of data.
– Climate change is a particular worry. We seem far from goals set and there is a need to implement current solutions widely, says Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, Director of Stockholm Environment Institute in York and lead author of the GEO-5 chapter on atmosphere. Reducing short-lived climate forcers, especially tropospheric ozone, black carbon and methane, is a low cost way to reduce warming over the next few decades, but must be implemented together with dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
Under current models, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, leading to rise in global temperature of 3°C or more by the end of the century. Four independent analyses show that 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record and in 2010, the rate of emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production was the highest ever recorded. The annual economic damage from climate change is estimated at 1-2 per cent of world GDP by 2100, if temperatures increase by 2.5°C.
Of the nine internationally agreed atmospheric pollution goals reviewed, significant progress has been made in eliminating substances that deplete the ozone layer and the phase-out of lead in gasoline.
– For atmospheric issues we found that there are clear examples of successful achievement of internationally agreed goals, showing that where there is political will, clear science and cost-effective alternatives, rapid progress can be made, says Dr Johan Kuylenstierna.
The report also calls for a greater focus on policies that target the drivers of environmental change – such as population growth and urbanization, unsustainable consumption patterns, fossil fuel-based energy consumption and transport, and globalization.
– Policies need to address the underlying drivers, not just the symptoms, and there are policy interventions that can curb the effects of these drivers both in the short term and the long term, says Lailai Li, senior research fellow of Stockholm Environment Institute and lead author of the GEO-5 chapter on Asia and the South Pacific. You can for example focus on reproductive health and girl’s education policies, steer towards sustainable consumption and production, think beyond GDP, invest in equitable, efficient and sustainable energy supply, invest in sustainable cities and infrastructure and internalize environmental costs.
Meeting Europe’s Environmental Challenges – Current Consumption Patterns Unsustainable, but Progress Made in Tackling Air Pollution, Chemicals and Waste
According to the GEO-5 report, Europe is at the forefront of international efforts to tackle climate change, establish protected areas and reduce air pollution, yet the region’s environmental footprint remains disproportionately high.
Despite some successes in ‘decoupling’ environmental pressures from economic growth, large parts of Europe are consuming unsustainable levels of resources. Comprehensive legislation is helping to improve the sustainable management of waste, yet volumes of waste continue to grow across the region. Figures suggest that Europe is still not a recycling society.
For example, the adoption of Western consumption habits in the new Member States of the European Union (EU), led to an increase in per capita municipal solid waste from 468 kg in 1995 to 524 kg in 2008 – an increase of 12 per cent.
Approaches used by European countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants have had considerable success; from introducing congestion tax and a low-emissions zone in Sweden to introducing feed-in tariff schemes in Germany. Many such policies have already been – and have the potential to be – replicated, with positive effects. Such integrated and cross-sectoral approaches to environmental policy development and implementation, has helped countries in Europe achieve long term results at lower costs.
However, a lack of environmental data, insufficient resources from public and private investors in tackling key environmental issues, combined with the persistence of traditional, consumption-oriented economic policies, are posing barriers to further progress in Europe.
But it‘s not all bad news. The report says meeting an ambitious set of global sustainability targets by the middle of the century is possible if current policies and strategies are changed and strengthened, and gives many examples of successful policy initiatives, including public investment, green accounting, sustainable trade, the establishment of new markets, technological innovation and capacity building.
UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report series keeps the state, trends and outlook of the global environment under review. GEO-5, the fifth in the series, also reviews the progress made in meeting internationally agreed goals, analyses successful policy options that have the potential for speeding up their realization, and highlights actions that both countries and the global community can take towards sustainable development.
The global launch of the GEO-5 report will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Regional launch events will take place in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, New Delhi, Beijing, Washington DC, New York, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Geneva and Brussels.
The GEO-5 report and related specialized products are available at: www.unep.org/geo