Sunday, October 28, 2007

Geo-4 "Global Environmental Outlook" - Bleak for Mankind

UNEP have just released their "Global Environmental Outlook". Generally speaking humanity remains at risk from climate change, food shortages and a collapse in biodiversity. In short, things are looking rather bleak.

There is a lot of interesting material to wade through.

This post has gone multimedia with links to podcasts and videos after the press release.

"The fourth Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) assessment is a comprehensive and authoritative UN report on environment, development and human well-being, providing incisive analysis and information for decision making."

Here is the English Press release:

Planet’s Tougher Problems Persist, UN Report Warns

Nairobi/New York, 25 October: The United Nations Environment Programme says that major threats to the planet such as climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the many that remain unresolved, and all of them put humanity at risk.

The warning comes in UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) report published 20 years after the World Commission on Environment and Development the Brundtland Commission) produced its seminal report, Our Common Future.

GEO-4, the latest in UNEP’s series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1 000 others across the world.

It salutes the world’s progress in tackling some relatively straightforward problems, with the environment now much closer to mainstream politics everywhere. But despite these advances, there remain the harder-to-manage issues, the “persistent” problems. Here, GEO-4 says:

“There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable.”

Failure to address these persistent problems, UNEP says, may undo all the achievements so far on the simpler issues, and may threaten humanity’s survival. But it insists: “The objective is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call for action.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The international community’s response to the Brundtland Commission has in some cases been courageous and inspiring. But all too often it has been slow and at a pace and scale that fails to respond to or recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the people and the environment of the planet”.

“Over the past 20 years, the international community has cut, by 95 per cent, the production of ozone-layer damaging chemicals; created a greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty along with innovative carbon trading and carbon offset markets; supported a rise in terrestrial protected areas to cover roughly 12 per cent of the Earth and devised numerous important instruments covering issues from biodiversity and desertification to the trade in hazardous wastes and living modified organisms,” he added.

UNEP FULL REPORT (22.5MB) - that is large.


UNEP Press release VIDEO.

As an academic I always want to know how such reports are refereed before release especially after the farce of the Stern Review. The refereeing appears to be comprehensive enough.

Did the GEO-4 report undergo a peer review process? How were comments from reviewers addressed in the drafting of the GEO-4?

The GEO-4 report underwent two rounds of governmental and expert review. We received over 13 000 comments on the drafts of the GEO-4 report and 3 000 comments on the GEO-4 Summary for Decisions Makers. Every comment was recorded and addressed by the GEO-4 Chapter Expert Groups, and their responses to the comments were posted on a password-protected Web site. All reviewers were able to see the responses to their and others’ comments. The Web site is not available to the general public in order to maintain confidentiality and allow for candid feedback from the reviewers. Further review was provided by independent experts who served as review editors, ensuring that all review comments were adequately and objectively addressed by the Chapter Expert Groups.

Finally, we end on a slightly brighter note. The 4 main messages from the report almost read like there is a shaft of light at the end of the tunnel.

What are GEO-4’s main messages?

1. The world has changed considerably over the past 20 years, but we have not turned the corner towards sustainable development. We live in a better world than at any time in history, but unprecedented environmental change has made us more vulnerable than we have ever been.

2. Human innovation to engineer and exploit the environment is being countered by the force of environmental change itself. Change is happening faster than we can keep up with.

3. We have a much better toolbox and technologies to tackle some of the global challenges. We have better science, a more informed public, and a more proactive private sector but are yet to cross the threshold of sustained action and staying power to reverse the negative trends of environmental decline.

4. How many environmental assessment reports such as GEO-4 and various others that have been or are being launched in 2007 do we need to reach the tipping point? We have a better understanding of the challenges we face. We can undo and reverse some of the damage now unfolding, adapt to those we can’t, and cease opportunities to strengthen mitigation. But we don’t have the luxury of time – delay exacerbates the problems and increases the complexity and cost to address the problems of environmental decline. The time to act is NOW!


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