A new UN report warns that the Earth is reaching a tipping point. This is the dire conclusion of a June 6, 2012 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report. The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5) is sub-titled “World Remains on Unsustainable Track Despite Hundreds of Internationally Agreed Goals and Objectives Ambitious Set of Sustainability Targets Can be Met, But Only with Renewed Commitment and Rapid Scaling-Up of Successful Policies.” The 525-page report said little or no progress has been
made toward meeting international targets for reducing
environmental destruction. The report calls on policymakers to take urgent action.
A UN report says that the earth’s environmental systems “are
being pushed towards their biophysical limits” and that sudden, irreversible and
potentially catastrophic changes are looming. The UN’s Environment Program says that climate change, the depletion of the
ozone layer, plummeting fish stocks and the mass extinction of animals are among
the most worrisome environmental threats.
The report unequivocally states that “The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path.” The report 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. Some progress was shown in 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as National Parks and efforts to reduce deforestation. However, little or no progress was detected for 24 – including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought.
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.
“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, Mr. Steiner said, adding he adding “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.
To access the full report click here.