UN report finds environmental progress inadequate, urges stepped-up action

25 October 2007 –

While political attention to environmental issues is increasing, this has not sufficed to achieve significant progress on climate change, loss of biodiversity and other challenges which face the planet and threaten humanity, according to the views of 390 scientists synthesized in a major new United Nations report on the issue.

“The fact that we are in the year 2007, with all the knowledge that we have and with all the capacity to do things differently – to present to the world at this point a report that essentially says that our response has been woefully inadequate is a very sobering realization,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at the launch in New York of the agency’s report, Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4).

The report notes that environmental concerns are much closer to mainstream politics everywhere today than when they were first addressed by the Brundtland Commission in its landmark report “Our Common Future” two decades ago. But it warns that despite these advances, problems persist which, if not addressed, may undo progress and threaten humanity’s survival.

“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,” Mr. Steiner noted.

At the same time, persistent problems include the decline of fish stocks; loss of fertile land through degradation; unsustainable pressure on resources; dwindling amount of fresh water; and risk that environmental damage “could pass unknown points of no return,” UNEP said.

Climate change, the destruction caused by forest fires and floods and other problems demonstrate “the cost of humanity trying to cope with the scale of environmental impacts,” said Mr. Steiner.

The report 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 argues that the future will be largely determined by the decisions individuals and society make now. “Our common future depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or sometime in the future,” it cautions.

Widely considered the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, GEO-4 was prepared by some 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1,000 others across the world.

“The cost of inaction greatly exceeds the cost of action,” said Olav Kjorven, Director of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Bureau for Development Policy, pointing out that local efforts around the world demonstrate the potential for change.

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