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.
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