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Outlook and recommendations


'The global system of environmental policy and management is moving in the right direction but much too slowly. Inspired political leadership and intense cooperation across all regions and sectors will be needed to put both existing and new policy instruments to work.'

GEO-2000, page 364


 Some key environmental successes
 

*  The ozone layer is expected to have largely recovered within half a century as a result of the Montreal Protocol.

*  The first international steps - the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol - have been taken to tackle the issue of global climate change.

*  The public is now much more concerned about environmental issues. Popular movements in many countries are forcing authorities to make changes.

*  Voluntary action taken by many of the world's major industries is reducing resource use and eliminating waste. The happy discovery that what is good for the environment can also be good for business may do much to reverse trends for which industry itself was originally largely responsible. This 'win-win' situation bodes well for the planet.

*  Governments in developed regions have been markedly successful in reducing air pollution in many major cities. Innovative legislation has been introduced, and the goal of zero emissions in several important areas is no longer considered utopian.

*  Deforestation has been halted and reversed in parts of both Europe and the North America.

*  Local Agenda 21 initiatives have proved an effective way of developing and implementing sustainable development policies that involve communities and political agencies alike.

 

Outlook

There have been some remarkable environmental successes over the past few years (see, for example, box below). However, while there used to be a long time horizon for undertaking major environmental policy initiatives, time for a rational, well-planned transition to a sustainable system is running out fast. Full-scale emergencies now exist on a number of issues:

  • The world water cycle seems unlikely to be be able to cope with the demands that will be made of it in the coming decades.
  • Land degradation has reduced fertility and agricultural potential. These losses have negated many of the advances made through expanding agricultural areas and increasing productivity.
  • Tropical forest destruction has gone too far to prevent irreversible damage. It would take many generations to replace the lost forests, and the cultures that have been lost with them can never be replaced.
  • Many of the planet's species have already been lost or condemned to extinction because of the slow response times of both the environment and policy-makers; it is too late to preserve all the biodiversity our planet once had.
  • Many marine fisheries have been grossly over-exploited, and their recovery will be slow.
  • More than half of the world's coral reefs are threatened by human activities. While some may yet be saved, it is too late for many others.
  • Urban air pollution problems are reaching crisis dimensions in many of the megacities of the developing world, and the health of many urban dwellers has been impaired.
  • It is probably too late to prevent global warming as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions; in addition, many of the targets agreed on in the Kyoto Protocol may not be met.

Recommendations

One of GEO's tasks is to recommend measures and actions that could reverse unwelcome trends and reduce threats to the environment. GEO-2000 therefore concludes with recommendations made by UNEP after consideration of the findings of the GEO-2000 assessment. These recommendations are focused on four areas.


'UNEP believes that increased and concerted policy development and action in these four “cross-cutting” areas would do much to break the stalemate which currently prevails on too many pressing environmental issues.'

GEO-2000, page 364

Filling the knowledge gaps

GEO-2000 shows that we still lack a comprehensive view of the interactions and impacts of global and inter-regional processes. Information on the current state of the environment is riddled with weakness. There are few tools to assess how developments in one region affect other regions, and whether the dreams and aspirations of one region are compatible with the sustainability of the global commons.

Another serious omission is the lack of effort to find out whether new environmental policies and expenditures have the desired results. These knowledge gaps act as a collective blindfold that hides both the road to environmental sustainability and the direction in which we are travelling. Actions are recommended in four areas:

  • improving environmental data and information;
  • evaluating policy performance;
  • assessing the links between trade and environment; and
  • assessing how far international financial flows meet Agenda 21 targets.

Tackling root causes

Means must be found to tackle the root causes of environmental problems, many of which are unaffected by strictly environmental policies. Resource consumption, for example, is a key driver of environmental degradation. Policy measures to attack this issue must reduce population growth, reorient consumption patterns, increase resource use efficiency and make structural changes to the economy. Ideally, such measures must simultaneously maintain the living standards of the wealthy, upgrade the living standards of the disadvantaged, and increase sustainability. This will require a shift in values away from material consumption. Without such a shift, environmental policies can effect only marginal improvements. Actions are recommended in three areas:

  • reducing environmentally-damaging subsidies without causing social or economic hardship;
  • improving energy conservation; and
  • encouraging the adoption of improved production technologies.

Taking an integrated approach

Changes are needed in the ways we think about the environment and in the ways in which we manage it. First, environmental issues need to be integrated into mainstream thinking. Better integration of environmental thinking into decision-making about agriculture, trade, investment, research and development, infrastructure and finance is now the best chance for effective action. Secondly, environmental policies that move away from strictly sectoral issues to encompass broad social considerations are the most likely to make a lasting impact. Thirdly, there is a need for better integration of international action to improve the environment - particularly in relation to regional and multilateral environment agreements. Actions are recommended in three areas:

  • integrating the environment into mainstream thinking;
  • adopting integrated environmental management; and
  • improving international coordination.

Mobilizing action

Solutions to environmental issues must come from cooperative action between all those involved - individuals, NGOs, industry, local and national governments, and international organizations. The need to involve all the parties concerned is emphasized throughout GEO-2000. Specific examples include the increasing role of NGOs in multilateral agreements, the involvement of stakeholders in property rights issues, and the leading role played by some manufacturing and resource industries in setting ambitious but voluntary environmental targets. Actions are recommended in five areas:

  • increasing public participation in environmental action;
  • strengthening the role of community groups and NGOs;
  • encouraging industry, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to set environmental targets;
  • stimulating action by national governments; and
  • increasing support for and the coordination of international organizations.


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