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website 25 Oct 07
Planet's Tougher Problems Persist, UN Report Warns
Yahoo News 26 Oct 07
UN agency urges tackling climate change
By Frank Griffiths, Associated Press Writer
Yahoo News 25 Oct 07
Save the planet? It's now or never, warns landmark UN report
by Jean-Marc Mojon
Humanity is changing Earth's climate so fast and devouring resources so voraciously that it is poised to bequeath a ravaged planet to future generations, the UN warned Thursday in its most comprehensive survey of the environment.
The fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4), published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is compiled by 390 experts from observations, studies and data garnered over two decades.
The 570-page report -- which caps a year that saw climate change dominate the news -- says world leaders must propel the environment "to the core of decision-making" to tackle a daily worsening crisis
"The need couldn't be more urgent and the time couldn't be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations," GEO-4 said.
The UNEP report offers the broadest and most detailed tableau of environmental change since the Brundtland Report, "Our Common Future," was issued in 1987 and put the environment on the world political map.
"There have been enough wake-up calls since Brundtland. I sincerely hope GEO-4 is the final one," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"The systematic destruction of the Earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged -- and where the bill we hand on to our children may prove impossible to pay," he added.
Earth has experienced five mass extinctions in 450 million years, the latest of which occurred 65 million years ago, says GEO-4.
"A sixth major extinction is under way, this time caused by human behaviour," it says.
Over the past two decades, growing prosperity has tremendously strengthened the capacity to understand and confront the environmental challenges ahead.
Despite this, the global response has been "woefully inadequate," the report said.
The report listed environmental issues by continent and by sector, offering dizzying and often ominous statistics about the future.
Climate is changing faster than at any time in the past 500,000 years.
Global average temperatures rose by 0.74 degrees Celsius (1.33 Fahrenheit) over the past century and are forecast to rise by 1.8 to four C (3.24-7.2 F) by 2100, it said, citing estimates issued this year by the 2007 Nobel Peace co-laureates, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
With more than six billion humans, Earth's population is now so big that "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available," the report warned, adding that the global population is expected to peak at between eight and 9.7 billion by 2050.
"In Africa, land degradation and even desertification are threats; per capita food production has declined by 12 percent since 1981," it said.
The GEO-4 report went on to enumerate other strains on the planet's resources and biodiversity.
Fish consumption has more than tripled over the past 40 years but catches have stagnated or declined for 20 years, it said.
"Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 percent of amphibians, 23 percent of mammals and 12 percent of birds are threatened," it added.
Stressing it was not seeking to present a "dark and gloomy scenario", UNEP took heart in the successes from efforts to combat ozone loss and chemical air pollution.
But it also stressed that failure to address persistent problems could undo years of hard grind.
And it noted: "Some of the progress achieved in reducing pollution in developed countries has been at the expense of the developing world, where industrial production and its impacts are now being exported."
GEO-4 -- the fourth in a series dating back to 1997 -- also looks at how the current trends may unfold and outlines four scenarios to the year 2050: "Markets First", "Policy First", "Security First", "Sustainability First".
After a year that saw the UN General Assembly devote unprecedented attention to climate change and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC and former US vice president Al Gore for raising awareness on the same issue, the report's authors called for radical change.
"For some of the persistent problems, the damage may already be irreversible," they warned. "The only way to address these harder problems requires moving the environment from the periphery to the core of decision-making: environment for development, not development to the detriment of environment."
Yahoo News 26 Oct 07
UN agency urges tackling climate change
By Frank Griffiths, Associated Press Writer
The international community must respond more quickly to climate change, species extinction, dwindling supplies of fresh water and other threats to the planet, the U.N. Environment Program warned Thursday.
The U.N. agency said in a report that nations still fail to recognize the seriousness of environmental threats to the planet.
Prepared by 390 experts over five years, the report reviews progress made since a similar one in 1987.
The global response in the two decades since "has in some cases been courageous and inspiring," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said before the report's release in London.
"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."
Climate change is a global priority that demands political leadership, but there has been "a remarkable lack of urgency" in the response, which the report characterized as "woefully inadequate."
The report outlined other global problems, including declining fish stocks and the loss of fertile land through degradation.
Human activity has reached an unsustainable level, outstripping available resources, the report said.
But it also found progress in some areas since the 1987 report.
"Over the past 20 years, the international community has cut, by 95 percent, the production of ozone-layer damaging chemicals," Steiner said. There has also been the creation of "a greenhouse-gas emission reduction treaty along with innovative carbon trading and carbon offset markets."
The British branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth welcomed the report, calling it an "important call for global political leadership in a fast degrading world."
The group's campaign director, Mark Childs, said "it is now clearer than ever that we need concerted international political action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt the loss of wildlife and ecosystems." ___
UNEP website 25 Oct 07
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.
"But, as GEO-4 points out, there continue to be 'persistent' and intractable problems unresolved and unaddressed. Past issues remain and new ones are emerging?from the rapid rise of oxygen 'dead zones' in the oceans to the resurgence of new and old diseases linked in part with environmental degradation. Meanwhile, institutions like UNEP, established to counter the root causes, remain under-resourced and weak," said Mr Steiner.
On climate change the report says the threat is now so urgent that large cuts in greenhouse gases by mid-century are needed. Negotiations are due to start in December on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate agreement which
obligates countries to control anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Although it exempts all developing countries from emission reduction commitments, there is growing pressure for some rapidly-industrializing countries, now substantial emitters themselves, to agree to emission reductions.
GEO-4 also warns that we are living far beyond our means. The human population is now so large that "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available... humanity's footprint [its environmental demand] is 21.9 hectares per person while the Earth's biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person...".
And it says the well-being of billions of people in the developing world is at risk, because of a failure to remedy the relatively simple problems which have been successfully tackled elsewhere.
GEO-4 recalls the Brundtland Commission's statement that the world does not face separate crises - the "environmental crisis", "development crisis", and "energy crisis" are all one. This crisis includes not just climate change, extinction rates and hunger, but other problems driven by growing human numbers, the rising consumption of the rich and the desperation of the poor.
- decline of fish stocks;
- loss of fertile land through degradation;
- unsustainable pressure on resources;
- dwindling amount of fresh water available for humans and other creatures to share; and
- risk that environmental damage could pass unknown points of no return.
GEO-4 says climate change is a "global priority", demanding political will and leadership. Yet it finds "a remarkable lack of urgency", and a "woefully inadequate" global response.
Several highly-polluting countries have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. GEO-4 says: "... some industrial sectors that were unfavourable to the... Protocol managed successfully to undermine the political will to ratify it." It says: "Fundamental changes in social and economic structures, including lifestyle changes, are crucial if rapid progress is to be achieved."
Among the other critical points it identifies are:
Water: Irrigation already takes about 70 per cent of available water, yet meeting the Millennium Development Goal on hunger will mean doubling food production by 2050. Fresh water is declining: by 2025, water use is predicted to have risen by 50 per cent in developing countries and by 18 per cent in the developed world. GEO-4 says: "The escalating burden of water demand will become intolerable in water-scarce countries."
Water quality is declining too, polluted by microbial pathogens and excessive nutrients. Globally, contaminated water remains the greatest single cause of human disease and death.
Fish: Consumption more than tripled from 1961 to 2001. Catches have stagnated or slowly declined since the 1980s. Subsidies have created excess fishing capacity, estimated at 250 per cent more than is needed to catch the oceans' sustainable production.
Biodiversity: Current biodiversity changes are the fastest in human history. Species are becoming extinct a hundred times faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. The Congo Basin's bushmeat trade is thought to be six times the sustainable rate. Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are threatened.
The intrusion of invasive alien species is a growing problem. The comb jellyfish, accidentally introduced in 1982 by US ships, has taken over the entire marine ecosystem of the Black Sea, and had destroyed 26 commercial fisheries by 1992.
A sixth major extinction is under way, this time caused by human behaviour. Yet to meet our growing demand for food will mean either intensified agriculture (using more chemicals, energy and water, and more efficient breeds and crops) or cultivating more land. Either way, biodiversity suffers.
One sign of progress is the steady increase in protected areas. But they must be effectively managed and properly enforced. And biodiversity (of all sorts, not just the "charismatic megafauna" like tigers and elephants) will increasingly need conserving outside protected areas as well.
Regional Pressures: This is the first GEO report in which all seven of the world's regions emphasize the potential impacts of climate change. In Africa, land degradation and even desertification are threats; per capita food production has declined by 12 per cent since 1981. Unfair agricultural subsidies in developed regions continue to hinder progress towards increasing yields. Priorities for Asia and the Pacific include urban air quality, fresh water stress, degraded ecosystems, agricultural land use and increased waste. Drinking water provision has made remarkable progress in the last decade, but the illegal traffic in electronic and hazardous waste is a new challenge. Europe's rising incomes and growing numbers of households are leading to unsustainable production and consumption, higher energy use, poor urban air quality, and transport problems. The region's other priorities are biodiversity loss, land-use change and freshwater stresses.
Latin America and the Caribbean face urban growth, biodiversity threats, coastal damage and marine pollution, and vulnerability to climate change. But protected areas now cover about 12 per cent of the land, and annual deforestation rates in the Amazon are falling. North America is struggling to address climate change, to which energy use, urban sprawl and freshwater stresses are all linked. Energy efficiency gains have been countered by the use of larger vehicles, low fuel economy standards, and increases in car numbers and distances travelled. For West Asia the priorities are freshwater stresses, degradation of land, coasts and marine ecosystems, urban management, and peace and security. Water-borne diseases and the sharing of international water resources are also concerns. The Polar Regions are already feeling the impacts of
climate change. The food security and health of indigenous peoples are at risk from increasing mercury and persistent organic pollutants in the environment. The ozone layer is expected to take another half-century to recover.
GEO-4 acknowledges that technology can help to reduce people's vulnerability to environmental stresses, but says there is sometimes a need "to correct the technology-centred development paradigm". It explores how current trends may unfold by 2050 in four scenarios.
The real future will be largely determined by the decisions individuals and society make now, GEO-4 says: "Our common future depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or some time in the future."
For some of the persistent problems the damage may already be irreversible. GEO-4 warns that tackling the underlying causes of environmental pressures often affects the vested interests of powerful groups able to influence policy decisions. The only way to address these harder problems requires moving the environment from the periphery to the core of decision-making: environment for development, not development to the detriment of environment.
"There have been enough wake-up calls since Brundtland. I sincerely hope GEO-4 is the final one. The systematic destruction of the Earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged?and where the bill we hand on to our children may prove impossible to pay," said Mr Steiner.
The GEO-4 report concludes that "while governments are expected to take the lead, other stakeholders are just as important to ensure success in achieving sustainable development. The need couldn't be more urgent and the time couldn't be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations"
State of the environment in graphics on the BBC website
Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) on the UNEP website
Related articles on Climate change
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