The Earth’s vital signs are weakening with most aspects of the natural environment in serious decline and the cause of that decline, we humans, are about to suffer a wide and accelerating range of ill-effects from the severe to the catastrophic.
This is not my opinion. Nor is it the opinion of environmental lobbyists. Nor the opinion of green politicians.
This is the conclusion of the UN’s Geo-4 report, a vast assessment of the state of the planet and how it has changed since 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) produced its report, Our Common Future.
The report draws on the expertise of hundreds of top researchers from a wide range of disciplines and then peer reviewed by thousands more experts in their fields. (Details from the UNEP’s global press release – pdf download.)
What’s more, the report focuses not just on climate change, the obsession of the day, but on the whole gamut of environmental issues – population growth, fisheries depletion, extinction of species, biodiversity, fresh water supplies, agriculture, deforestation, desertification, ocean acidification, declining energy and minderal reserves, and more.
On top of that, Geo-4 links these issues together, ties them into climate change and then asks how they are linked not just to human development and environmental exploitation, but also to social issues.
So, while you may think you’ve heard all this before, you would be right to a degree.
But you will have never found all the information, all the research, all the conclusions and all the implications brought together in one comprehensive report that clearly links the Earth’s environmental systems functions and conditions – and then shows the consequences of human intervention with them.
Geo-4 acknowledges the world’s progress in tackling some of the relatively straightforward problems, but points out that despite relatively minor advances there remain the “persistent” problems.
And in this regard, GEO-4 is very bleak indeed, stating “There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable.”
The United Nations Environment Programme says failure to address these persistent problems may not only undo all the achievements so far on the simpler issues, but may also threaten humanity’s survival.
Despite that, it says: “The objective is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call for action.”
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The international community’s response to the Brundtland Commission has in some cases been courageous and inspiring. But all too often it has been slow and at a pace and scale that fails to respond to or recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the people and the environment of the planet”.
“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,” he added.
“But, as GEO-4 points out, there continue to be ‘persistent’ and intractable problems unresolved and unaddressed. Past issues remain and new ones are emerging – from the rapid rise of oxygen ‘dead zones’ in the oceans to the resurgence of new and old diseases linked in part with environmental degradation. Meanwhile, institutions like UNEP, established to counter the root causes, remain under-resourced and weak,” said Mr Steiner.
GEO-4 revives the Brundtland Commission’s statement that the world does not face separate crises – the “environmental crisis,” the “development crisis,” and the “energy crisis” are all one.
As Chairman’s Foreword said back in 1987:
“…the “environment” is where we all live; and “development” is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable.
“Further, development issues must be seen as crucial by the political leaders who feel that their countries have reached a plateau towards which other nations must strive.
“Many of the development paths of the industrialized nations are clearly unsustainable.
“And the development decisions of these countries, because of their great economic and political power, will have a profound effect upon the ability of all peoples to sustain human progress for generations to come.”
The same applies today, but the situation has been magnified by our lack of action on the major issues over the past 20 years.
The crisis extends beyond climate change to all the other problems driven by growing human numbers, the rising consumption of the rich, the desperation of the poor and the rapacious, unsustainable over-exploitation of the Earth that we all depend upon.
That facts are there, the conclusions are are irrefuteable and all that remains now is whether we choose to act and force our representatives to act, or join the other species that we have driven to extinction.
What is your choice?