* 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
(Adds quote from London press conference in 12th paragraph)
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 environmental targets at an
Earth summit this month.
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
environmental 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 will 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 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 to provide access to clean water. But UNEP
detected little or no progress on 24 goals, including on climate
change, depleting fish stocks and expanding desertification.
Governments should focus on the key drivers behind climate
change: population growth and urbanisation, fossil fuel-based
energy consumption and globalisation, it said.
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.
BACK TO RIO
The original Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago led to the Kyoto
Protocol on capping greenhouse gas emissions and a treaty on
biodiversity, but with a faltering global
economy and deep concerns over Europe's financial future Rio+20
may have more limited ambitions.
Although the goals to be agreed are aspirational, not
mandatory, negotiations on have been fraught. About a fifth of
the text has been agreed so far, the United Nations said on
Targets have made little or no progress since 1992, with
global carbon dioxide emissions up nearly 40 percent between by
2010, led mainly by rapid growth in large developing nations
such as Brazil, China and India, UNEP data shows.
Biodiversity is also on the wane, most notably in the
tropics with a 30 percent decline since 1992.
Environmental group WWF estimates the world would have to be
50 percent bigger to have enough land and forests to provide for
current levels of consumption and carbon emissions.
The Asia-Pacific region, home to more than half of humanity,
is key to creating a greener future, says the GEO-5 report. More
than half of the 57 per cent worldwide increase in
transport-related emissions expected between 2005 and 2030 will
be in China and India, it 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, saying: "The moment has
come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the
facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all
(Reporting by Jeff Coelho and David Fogarty; Editing by
Rosalind Russell and Robin Pomeroy)