6 June 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Fifth United Nations Global Environment Outlook Report


Significant progress had been made in only four of 90 internationally agreed environmental goals and objectives assessed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said an official today upon the release of the Programme’s latest report in its flagship Global Environment Outlook (GEO) series.

The four areas, explained Matthew Billot, Head of UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook Unit, at a Headquarters press conference, were eliminating the production and use of substances depleting 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 the first time, the report — the fifth in the series — focused on meeting internationally agreed goals, he said.  In three parts — state and trends of the global environment, regional solutions and policy responses, and global responses — “GEO-5 represents probably the most comprehensive assessment of the selection of the internationally agreed development and environmental goals.” 

He said that some progress was shown in 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as national parks and efforts to reduce deforestation, but little or no progress had been detected in 24, including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought.  Further deterioration had been posted for eight goals, including the state of the world’s coral reefs.  No assessment had been made of 14 other goals due to a lack of data.

Increasing population and economic growth were among the drivers, or root causes, of environmental change, he noted.  For instance, the world’s population had already reached 7 billion and was due to grow to 9 billion by 2050 and 10 billion by the end of the century.  “The message from GEO-5 here is there should be a shift in the policy focus towards addressing the drivers of environmental change,” he noted.

Some progress had been made in reducing the proportion of people suffering from hunger, which was Millennium Development Goal no. 1, he said.  However, the absolute number of such people was still increasing.  He noted that GEO-5 featured a new section dedicated to chemicals and waste.  In 2004, 4.9 million people had died from exposure to chemicals.

The report was also strongly focused on locally adopted and implemented solutions, he said, citing successful examples from each region, including West Africa’s Network of Marine Protected Areas, which supported the $400 million fishing industry and improved livelihoods of 8 million people along the coastline; Viet Nam’s Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services policy, which improved livelihoods for 40,000 rural poor and protected 209,705 hectares of threatened forest land; the European Union’s Transboundary EU Natura 2000 network made up of more than 26,000 sites and covering 18 per cent of the region’s land and sea areas; Brazil’s Bolsa Floresta Program, which used several financial mechanisms to reduce deforestation and address broad social concerns; Canada’s conservation and renewable energy initiatives in the province of Ontario, which created 13,000 direct and indirect jobs; and a programme in Syria for the Al Bashri rangeland, which had increased fodder production by 90 kilograms per hectare per year to 320 kilograms in three years and had reduced bare soil from 91 per cent to 32 per cent.

While replicating and scaling up successful policies was necessary, removing unsustainable policies would be required at the same time, he said.  And still more action would be needed.  GEO-5 also outlined solutions and recommendations at the global level.  Those included setting measurable goals and targets; enhancing the effectiveness of global institutions; investing in enhanced capacities for addressing environmental change; supporting environmentally sound technologies; strengthening the rights-based approach and access to environmental justice; and deepening and broadening stakeholder engagement.

The first Global Environment Outlook report had been published in 1997 in response to a mandate given to UNEP, with the fourth released in 2007.  For the full transcript of the GEO-5 report, visit http://www.unep.org/geo.

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For information media • not an official record