The United Nations Environment Programme notes that the world remains on an unsustainable track despite hundreds of internationally agreed goals and objectives. An ambitious set of sustainability targets can be met, but only with renewed commitment and rapid scaling-up of successful policies.
Global Environmental Outlook: Fifth Edition
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, according to a new and wide-ranging assessment coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
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.
These are 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 - for a full list of goals and status of implementation, visit: www.unep.org/geo/pdfs/geo5/Progress_towards_goals.pdf .
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 – 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.
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.
"If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,‖ said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
But it‘s not all bad news. The report says meeting an ambitious set of 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.
GEO-5 also points out that where international treaties and agreements have tackled goals with specific, measurable targets—such as the bans on ozone-depleting substances and lead in petrol—they have demonstrated considerable success. For this reason, GEO-5 calls for more specific targets, with quantifiable results, across a broader range of environmental challenges.
"GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating Green Economy is urgently needed," said Mr. Steiner. "The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt."
"The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples," he added. "Rio+20 is a moment to turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come."
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.
In particular, globalization has made it possible for trends in drivers to generate intense pressures in concentrated parts of the world very quickly, as in the case of increased demand for biofuels leading to land clearance and conversion.
Although reducing the drivers of environmental change directly may appear politically difficult, it is possible to accomplish significant indirect benefits by targeting more expedient objectives, such as international goals on human well-being, the report says.