WASHINGTON – The quality of the Earth’s land, atmosphere and oceans has declined over the past five years, despite an increase in worldwide green initiatives.
A new report is published every five years. It assesses the progress toward UNEP’s key goals to improve the quality of water, land, biodiversity, atmosphere, and to deal with chemicals and waste.
“The overall message of the report is not very positive,” Amy Fraenkel, director of UNEP’s North American regional office, said.
Scientific evidence shows that the Earth is being pushed toward its environmental tipping points, which would mean abrupt and irreversible changes affecting human well being.
At the news conference, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said a new 37-mile street car system will start running next year, and research has helped efforts to clean up the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac River. He said the city just finished installing 1,360 energy-efficient street lights.
“As the capital city, we must be at the forefront of change,” Gray said. “We understand the peril that faces our planet and are conscious of the state of our environment.”
Local efforts do not go unnoticed, but the report said that bigger actions are necessary.
The report focused on 90 of more than 500 of the most crucial global environmental goals. Only four showed significant progress: eliminating ozone-depleting substances, removing lead from fuel, increasing access to clean drinking water and boosting research to reduce marine pollution.
The goal of getting clean drinking water to 87 percent of the globe’s residents was met, but getting sewage treatment to 75 percent of people was not.
Some progress was shown in 40 goals, including expanding national parks and reducing deforestation, but only 1.5 percent of the marine environment is protected.
James Dobrowolski, national program leader for agricultural water security at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that forest degradation will cost the global economy more than the financial crisis of 2008.
Goals dealing with climate change, fish stocks, desertification, drought, marine pollution and other problems showed little or no progress.
If the world stays on this path, global carbon emissions are expected to double over the next 50 years, which will lead to a rise in global temperature of 5.4 degrees.
Coal-fire power plants are still the leading U.S. energy source, and the highest rate of emissions from fossil fuels ever recorded was in 2010.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which produces shale gas, may cause geological faults and sinkholes. The shale gas emits 30 percent more methane than conventional gas, which affects air quality.
Carbon taxes in Quebec and British Columbia have reduced carbon emissions and could be a solution to this problem.
Nearly 40 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died, and about 20 percent of vertebrate species are under threat. Because coral reefs absorb carbon dioxide, their decline is contributing to climate change.
This year’s report is meant educate international leaders and policymakers in advance of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro June 20 to 22, 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit.
Finding new methods and funding for research will be one of the summit’s top priorities.
Dobrowolski said being entirely negative is not the right attitude.
“The Chicken Little strategy, you can only take it to the public so many times and they don’t seem to listen to you anymore,” he said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Burton at Burtonr@shns.com or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.