Alarm rang 20 years ago, but world still at grave risk: report

Alarm rang 20 years ago, but world still at grave risk: report

Two decades after a landmark report sounded alarm bells about the state of the planet in terms of climate and environment and called for urgent action to change direction, the world is still in dire straits, a United Nations (UN) agency said on Thursday.

The UN Environment Programme’s fourth Global Environment Outlook (Geo-4) report said action has been successfully taken in some regions and on some problem areas, but the overall global picture is one of sloth and neglect. “The global trends on climate, on ozone, on indeed ecosystem degradation, fisheries, in the oceans, water supplies...are still pointing downwards," UN Environment Programme’s head Achim Steiner said in a short film accompanying the report’s release.

The 540-page report calls for emissions of climate warming greenhouse gases to be cut by between 60% and 80%, and notes that 60% of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded and are still being used unsustainably.

“We are facing an escalating situation," Steiner said. “Partly because we have been very slow in reversing the degradation that we have documented, and secondly, because the demands on our planet have continued to grow during this period. That equation cannot hold for much longer. Indeed, in parts of the world it is no longer holding."

The report is a litany of planetwide death and degradation. Two decades after former Norwegian premier Gro Harlem Brundtland warned that the survival of humankind was at stake, Geo-4 finds that three million people die needlessly each year from water-borne diseases in developing nations—mostly children under five.

Fishing capacity is nearly four times more than is sustainable, species are becoming extinct 100 times faster than fossil records show, and 12% of birds, 23% of mammals and more than 305 of amphibians face extinction.

UN Environment Programme’s deputy head Marion Cheatle told a London news conference the world had suffered five mass extinctions in its history and was now undergoing a sixth.

The report, drawn together by 388 scientists and vetted by 1,000 others, praises international treaties on saving the ozone layer, desertification and biodiversity and actions in some cities on controlling urban atmospheric pollution.

But it describes as “woefully inadequate" the global response to problems, such as cutting emissions of carbon gases from power and transport that scientists say will boost average temperatures by up to 4°Celsius this century. “We do have solutions but we are just not applying them at the speed we need," said Cheatle. “Time and again we see not enough effort being put in."

The report said in Africa, it’s land degradation by climate change and conflicts, while in the Asia-Pacific region, air pollution is the major threat and in Europe it is profligate consumption and overuse of carbon-based energy. Reuters