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Emerging Environmental Issues

A selection of short items of good news and bad news about the environment, and a selection of environmental assessments and planned assessments, mostly produced by partners in the UN system-wide Earthwatch, organized by chapters and programme areas in Agenda 21.

Introduction on emerging environmental issues

Too often we think of the state of the environment as we see it at a moment in time. It is more difficult to conceive of the environment as a series of dynamic and interconnected processes and planetary systems changing and interacting over time, even if at time scales where movement seems almost imperceptible. These short items which review what has changed in the years since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit illustrate the significance of the shift from a static to a dynamic perspective.Even several years is a very short time to judge environmental change, and few comprehensive reports exist to document such change at a global level. Yet scientists have recently uncovered significant new symptomsof planetary stress, and improved assessments have clarified known or suspected problems. There are even encouraging signs that environmental management efforts are bringing concrete improvements. Some of these, compiled from the recent scientific literature and UN reports by the UN system-wide Earthwatch with the cooperation of UN system partners, are summarized here. They are organized by the chapters and programme areas of Agenda 21, the action plan adopted by governments at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (numbers in parentheses).

This selection of issues only features what is new since Rio. It does not aim to review all important issues or to show their priority, but to illustrate how our environment, our perceptions of problems, and the responses of society are dynamic and changing, even over as short a period as the last several years. Many of these issues are still controversial, even within the scientific community, as it takes time to achieve consensus. New discoveries and advances in science are bound to alter some of the viewpoints expressed here. These emerging issues are examples of science in motion.

Apart from the separate issues reviewed here, one significant broad result of the Rio process and Agenda 21 has been the growing recognition that all the different aspects of sustainable development described in its forty chapters are interrelated, and only integrated approaches will make it possible to approach sustainability. New evidence since Rio shows that these interrelationships also apply to the major environmental problems, such as those for which international conventions have been adopted. There are significant interactions between climate change, ozone depletion, desertification and biodiversity loss, for instance, requiring greater attention to synergistic effects between these problems, and integrated approaches to research, assessment and management.



Emerging Environmental Issues




UNEP/DEWA/Earthwatch 1996-2002