Global Environmental Outlook (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Oct, 1997
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.7, No.2, May-Aug. 1997, pp.9-11)

Global Environmental Outlook  - First report presented by the
United Nations Environment Programme
A review by Allie Irvine

United Nations Environment Programme presented the first report in
the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) series - a snapshot of the
ongoing world-wide environmental assessment process.  It was initiated 
in response to Agenda 21 - the road map for sustainable development
adopted by governments at the 1992 summit in Rio de Janeiro.

GEO's priority is to reflect regional perceptions and realities while reporting on the state of the global environment.  Input was solicited
from regional Collaborating Centres, United Nations organisations,
and independent experts.

Profound world-wide changes continue to occur in social, institutional
and economic systems, yet poverty remains global and disparity among
nations widens.  Despite progress, the report states that the rate at
which the world is moving toward a sustainable future is too slow. 
It clearly illustrates the link between socio-economic depravation
and poor environmental standards.

GEO-1 is designed to build consensus on critical environmental issues,
set priorities among the plethora of environmental concerns, and identify
issues that the international community needs to address.  It provides
the policy maker, corporate leader, student, activist and citizen with
a picture of the priority environmental concerns in each region, the
overall health of the planet, and proposes a direction for possible
environmental response strategies.

The global picture
The GEO-1 Report shows significant progress in confronting
environmental challenges in both developing and industrial regions
over the past decade.  World-wide, the greatest progress has been
in the area of institutional developments, international co-operation,
public participation and the emergence of private-sector action.

Legal frameworks, economic instruments, environmentally sound
technologies, and cleaner production processes have been developed
and applied. 

Environmental impact assessments have become standard tools in
initiating, implementing and evaluating major development and
investment projects in many countries.

Several countries show marked progress in curbing pollution, slowing
degradation, and reducing use of resources.  Since Rio, governments,
non-governmental organisations, the private sector, civil society and
the science and research community have responded positively to
environmental challenges. 

Despite progress on several fronts, the report argues that the global
perspective on the environment has continued to degrade, perpetuated
by socio-economic circumstances in nations around the world. 
Nationally and internationally, funds and political will are lacking. Progress to a sustainable future is too slow.

There is a void of effective national environmental legislation, and
small and medium-sized companies which form the backbone of national
economies have not kept pace with trans-national corporate environmental
consciousness. The report states that continued degradation of natural
resources, constraints on renewable resources, increased pollution and
resulting climate changes may lead to food insecurity,  unprecedented
human health risks, and cause irreparable damage to biodiversity.

Regional status
The GEO-1 confirms the diversity of environmental concerns among
regions.  Land, forest, biodiversity, water, marine and coastal
environments, atmosphere, and urban and industrial environments are
evaluated by region.

In areas of Africa, West Asia and parts of Asia Pacific, and Latin America,
where food security and alleviating poverty are priorities, the greatest
environmental concern is the degradation of farm land through
urbanisation, soil contamination and acidification, and poor water

The advancement of agriculture has caused concern for forests and
biodiversity in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific, which 
house 80 per cent of the ecological megadiversity countries of the
world. All regions have experienced problems with ground and surface
water.  More than one third of the world's population is without a safe
drinking water supply.  Management and development of efficient water
resources is a high priority in West Asia, Africa and Asia and the Pacific. 
In Europe and North America, the protection of water from pollution is
high on the agenda.

About 60 per cent of the world's population lives within 100 kilometres
of coastline, and over 3 billion people rely on coast and marine habitats
for food, building sites, transportation, recreation and waste disposal. 
One third of the world's coastal regions are at high risk of degradation
from land-based pollution and infrastructure development.  Europe is
most at risk, followed by Asia and the Pacific and Latin America.  Oil
spills are a threat to West Asia and the Caribbean, while over fishing has
drastically depleted stocks in Asia and the Pacific, North America, Europe
and West Asia.

Air pollution problems are pervasive.  All major cities in the world suffer
urban air quality problems.  The rising demand for fuel to power economic
development will cause continued damage to the ozone layer and harmful
climate changes. Waste disposal is another area of serious concern world-
wide, aggravated by rapid industrialization in the southern hemisphere.

Population growth, urbanisation, and the widening gap between rich and
poor are often blamed for environmental degradation.  The report points
the finger at inefficient use of resources, waste generation, pollution from
industry and wasteful consumption patterns as being equally responsible.
Regional policies to combat environmental degradation

Regional responses across the board have focused on institutional and
constitutional issues before implementation and enforcement of
environmental legislation and regulations. These steps are followed by
strategic action plans to protect the environment. Finally, market-based
incentives to inspire voluntary, flexible and innovative action on the
environment are introduced.

Weak institutions, insufficient human and financial resources, ineffective
legislation and toothless enforcement bodies are all problems encountered
in promoting environmental responsibility in the developing world.

Legislative measures and market-based incentives are more effective in
developed regions of the world.

Although the intrinsic link between poverty and environment was
identified at Rio, little evidence emerged from any of the region reports
that show concerted action to ensure environmental policy benefits
the poor.

Environmental protection and social investments in education, better
health care and employment go hand in hand.  Empowering communities
and environment-oriented NGOs are widely recognised as powerful tools
for sustainable development.  In regions where government policy is weak
and ineffective, so too is public participation.

Looking into the future
The first GEO Report concludes that more systematic analysis of the links
between environmental, social, economic, institutional and cultural sectors,
and the relation between different environmental issues is needed.

Despite falling birth rates and cleaner technology in the developed world,
over-population, industrialization, poverty and wasteful consumption in
the developing world will continue to increase global resource and energy
consumption, generate waste, decrease food security and contaminate the

The GEO-1 calls for concerted action by the international community in
four key areas:

Energy efficiency and renewable energy resources - Alternative energy
resources must be vigorously pursued and efficiency greatly improved.

Appropriate and environmentally sound technologies world-wide -
Technologies that make more effective use of natural resources, create
less waste and produce fewer pollutants are urgently needed.

Global action on fresh water - Lack of potable water is a major
impediment to development in several regions.  Land-based sources of
pollution and run-off from agricultural and urban areas must be stemmed.
A global strategy on water is paramount to environmental security.

Benchmark data and integrated assessments - Continual assessment are
needed to guide decision-making and implementation of environmental
policy, including investment in new and better data collection, making links
between environmental issues and development, integrated environmental
impact assessment of alternative policy options, better translation of
scientific results for public policy use, and the development of cost-
effective, useful environmental monitoring.

The report acknowledges that a sustainable future calls for significant
investment in social infrastructures that will alleviate poverty and
contribute to environmental protection.

The Global Environment Outlook presented by UNEP is published
by Oxford University Press, 1997.