* Only four of 90 goals making significant progress
* Climate change, fish stocks showing little or no progress
* Rio+20 conference on sustainability from June 20-22
By Jeff Coelho and David Fogarty
LONDON/SINGAPORE, June 6 Population growth,
urbanisation and consumption are set to inflict irreversible
damage on the planet, the United Nations said on Wednesday, and
called for urgent agreement on new green targets to save the
The U.N. Environment Programme sounded the alarm in its
fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5) report, published two
weeks before the Rio+20 summit in Brazil, one of the biggest
environment meetings in years.
The June 20-22 meeting is expected to attract more than
50,000 participants from governments, companies and
environmental and lobby groups and attempt to set new goals
across seven core themes including food security, water and
The GEO-5 report, three years in the making and the United
Nations' main health-check of the planet, urges governments to
create more ambitious targets or toughen existing ones, most of
which have failed to deliver.
Time was running very short, U.N. Under-Secretary General
and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, as the planet
heads for 9 billion people by 2050 and the global economy
consumes ever larger amounts of natural resources.
"If current trends continue, if current patterns of
production and consumption of natural resources prevail and
cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will
preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,"
Steiner said in a statement.
Of the 90 most important environmental goals in existence,
only four are making significant progress, the report said.
Some of the successful goals included those to prevent ozone
depletion and providing access to clean water supplies. But it
detected little or no progress in 24 goals, such as those aiming
to address climate change, depleting fish stocks and expanding
UNEP called on governments to focus their policies on the
key drivers behind climate change, notably population growth and
urbanisation, fossil fuel-based energy consumption and
Scientists have linked the burning of fossil fuels - oil,
coal and natural gas - to an acceleration of climatic changes
such as severe drought and flooding. There are also economic
The annual economic damage from climate change is estimated
at 1-2 percent of world GDP by 2100, if temperatures increase by
2.5 degrees Celsius, UNEP says.
Current models suggest greenhouse gas emissions could double
over the next 50 years, leading to rise in global temperature of
3 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century.
Most of the impacts from climate change will be felt in many
developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, where
population growth and rising consumption are putting more stress
on dwindling natural resources, the GEO-5 report said.
BACK TO RIO
The Rio+20 summit will not seek to repeat the same outcome
of the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago, which led to the Kyoto
Protocol on capping greenhouse gas emissions and a treaty on
This month's summit is set against a backdrop of a faltering
global economy and deep concerns over Europe's financial future.
The goals this time in Rio are aspirational, not mandatory, yet
negotiations on a draft text have been fraught. About a fifth of
the text has now been agreed ahead of the meeting, the United
Nations said on Monday.
Even mandatory targets have made little or no progress since
Global carbon dioxide emissions have increased nearly 40
percent between 1992 and 2010, led mainly by rapid growth in
large developing nations such as Brazil, China and India, UNEP
Biodiversity is also on the wane, most notably in the
tropics with a 30 percent decline since 1992.
Last month, environmental group WWF said the world would
have to be 50 percent bigger to have enough land and forests to
provide for the current levels of consumption and carbon
The Asia-Pacific region, home to more than half of humanity,
is key to creating a greener future, says the GEO-5 report. The
region is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions
globally and is also rapidly urbanising.
Transport-related emissions are expected to increase by 57
per cent worldwide between 2005 and 2030, with China and India
accounting for more than half, the report says.
The region is also facing increased demands for water for
agriculture and industry yet aquifer levels are falling, rivers
are increasingly polluted and being dammed for irrigation and
The GEO-5 report said goals with specific, measurable
targets demonstrated the most success, such as the bans on ozone
depleting substances and lead in petrol.
It also says it is crucial for governments to put a price on
natural resources such as mangroves, rivers and forests and
include this in national accounts.
Steiner called on nations to act.
"The moment has come to put away the paralysis of
indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common
humanity that unites all peoples."
(Reporting by Jeff Coelho and David Fogarty; Editing by