Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) Part I
The natural environment – the very basis of human and other existence – is often pushed aside by other and apparently more pressing issues. But what about the more “quiet” natural processes and human relations with the environment? In the report Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4), the UN Environment Program provides a summary of the state of nature – globally and regionally. This article is an excerpt from and a densification of the GEO-4 report.
- How healthy is the globe?
- What is the situation when it comes to the world’s natural environment?
- What are the overall trends in key environmental areas?
- What has happened in the last 20 years?
The world has changed radically since 1987 – socially, economically and environmentally. According to LOVERISTS, the world’s population has increased from approx. 5 billion in 1987 to approx. 6.8 billion (2009 ). During the same period, the world economy has been growing – also per capita. But growth is unevenly distributed between groups, countries and regions.
During the period, formidable technological changes have also taken place . We see a striking example in both improvements and the growth in the use of telecommunications – not least the strong growth of the internet. Population growth and economic growth (with more consumption per capita) together have further increased the pressure on natural resources.
2: Relationship between development and the environment
The idea of development has brought the issue of welfare into the central field of politics. Human welfare is a result of development, which in turn is closely linked to the state of the natural environment.
In 1987, the Brundtland Commission (World Commission for the Earth’s Environment and Development) pointed out that the environment, economy and social conditions are inextricably intertwined. The “engines” in the increasing pressure on the natural environment are population growth, economic activities, increased consumption and new consumption patterns. There are therefore many obstacles left on the road to sustainable development – the UN’s seventh millennium goal . The fact is that environmental considerations have only to a small extent been drawn into development processes.
Deterioration of the environment undoubtedly leads to health problems, including cancer, infectious diseases, more infection from animals to humans, nutritional problems and respiratory diseases. The environment is an important base for human economic activity. Globally, fishing, forestry and agriculture account for 50 percent of all employment. Unsustainable use of natural resources such as land, water, forests and fish can threaten individual households as well as local, national and regional economies.
Sustainable collaboration between humans and the natural environment is crucial to be able to achieve the other millennium goals . Natural resources are the very basis of life – provide a livelihood – for many of the world’s poor. Natural capital accounts for about a quarter of the income in low-income countries. And almost a fifth of the total disease burden in developing countries must be seen in connection with environmental threats.
3: Air pollution
What happens to environmental problems that have to do with atmosphere and air? What is the engine for the changes? How do they affect welfare and development? And which population groups, ecosystems and areas are most vulnerable to the changes? What measures will be put in place?
Air quality and welfare: The GEO-4 report concludes that man-made air pollution is one of the most important environmental problems affecting both our health, general well-being and development worldwide.
GEO-4 sees atmospheric issues as particularly complex. Different pollutants that are released and secondary substances that are formed in the atmosphere have different “lifetimes” . It can vary from hours to several hundred years, and the substance can be transported over different long distances. The effects can be both local and global.
Air pollution , especially particle pollution, is very high in many cities, especially in developing countries. In most of the metropolitan areas of the world, NO2 emissions exceed the limit values that the World Health Organization (WHO) has seen. And the current level does not seem to want to decrease significantly. More than two million people die prematurely each year as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution. On the other hand, air quality has improved markedly in some countries – primarily in the north – after the World Commission (1987) emphasized the urgent need to do something about these problems. But many of the main problems remain the same, or have even become greater.
Indoor air pollution – which stems from burning wood, kerosene or coal in households – affects women and children in particular. Every year, 1.6 million people die prematurely as a result of indoor air pollution. Outdoor air pollution also affects the health of the poorest hardest. This goes beyond the Millennium Development Goals – both the fight against poverty, the health goals and the goal of sustainable development. In many developing countries, particle pollution is most important when it comes to air pollution. The extensive use of poor fuel in households, industry and transport is a critical problem here.