Stern warning from UN ahead of Rio+20

On June 6, the United Nations Environment Programme issued its fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO5) in anticipation of the Rio+20 conference in Brazil. The report offers a sorry verdict on the mechanisms used so far for international environment negotiations and their impacts in the real world.

Of the 90 top environmental targets evaluated in the study, significant progress was only acknowledged in four. These are: eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer; removing lead from fuel; increasing access to improved water supplies; and boosting research on reduction of pollution of the marine environment.

The state of the world’s marine life, fish stocks, coral reefs and wetlands are areas where significant deterioration is reported. Population and economic growth are pinpointed as the main causes. The report also illustrates that, if new steps are not taken to stem the tide, there could be sudden or irreversible shifts in the planet’s ecology and life-support functions.

The Asia Pacific region is growing faster than any other in the world, and so are its greenhouse-gas emissions. Under the current scenario, 45% of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions will originate here by 2030. This share is estimated to surpass 60% by the year 2100. In 2008, a population of 250 million people in the area (over 40% of the world’s total population) did not have access to clean water, and about 1.9 billion people lacked access to improved sanitation (more than 70% of the world’s total population).

As a result of these serious problems, the Asia-Pacific region has stepped up investment in its freshwater, biodiversity, climate change, chemical/waste and environmental governance policies.

China has also put a lot of work into cutting its carbon output. China’s average GDP growth target was lowered to 7% in the government’s 12th Five-Year Plan, alongside a carbon-intensity reduction target of 17%. Jiang Guibin, a fellow at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that progress has certainly been made with regard to China’s environmental targets, but work has only just begun.

Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Clare Pennington