The environmental changes that have swept the planet over the last twenty years are spotlighted in a new compilation of statistical data by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), released today in a report entitled "Keeping Track of our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20".
• Yet the percentage of slum dwellers has dropped from 46 per cent in 1990 to a third in 2010, thanks to improved housing and sanitation
• 1.4 billion people globally have no access to reliable electricity or the power grid.
• The amount of CO2 per US$1 GDP has dropped by 23 per cent since 1992 underlining that some decoupling of economic growth from resource use is occurring.
• Nearly all mountain glaciers around the world are retreating and getting thinner, with severe impacts on the environment and human well-being.
• Diminishing glaciers not only influence current sea-level rise, but also threaten the well-being of approximately one-sixth of the world's population.
• Sea levels have been rising at an average rate of about 2.5 mm per year since 1992.
• Solar and wind energy accounted for only 0.3% of the total global energy. Increased recognition of the need to move towards low carbon, resource efficient energy solutions can be seen in the 540% increase in investments in sustainable energy between 2004 and 2010.
• Due to the decreasing prices of the technologies and adoption of new policies, growth in biodiesel as a renewable energy source has jumped 300,000 per cent, use of solar energy has increased by nearly 30,000 per cent, wind by 6,000 per cent and biofuels by 3,500 per cent.
• The annual 20 per cent rise in the number of forests receiving certificates for sustainable forestry practices shows that consumers are exerting influence on timber production. However, only around 10 per cent of global forests are under certified sustainable management.
• A growing percentage of the world's forests are one that have been replanted--an area equaling the size of a country like Tanzania.
Food Security and land use
• Land used for organic farming is growing at an annual rate of 13 per cent.
The data compiled also indicates that environmental target-setting works best for well-defined issues such as phasing out leaded gasoline or ozone-depleting substances.
• There is a growing concern that the oceans are becoming more acidic. This could have significant consequences on marine organisms which may alter species composition, disrupt marine food webs and potentially damage fishing, tourism activities.
• The ocean's pH declined from 8.11 in 1992 to 8.06 in 2007.
• The number of tanker oil spills recorded has declined in 20 years.
• Biodiversity has declined by 12 per cent at the global level and by 30 per cent in the tropics.
• Eco-tourism is growing at a rate three times faster than traditional mass-tourism.
• Plastics production has climbed by 130 per cent.
The UNEP publication also notes that many environmental issues, which were only emerging in 1992, are now firmly part of mainstream policymaking in many countries.
• The greening of economy has taken off as a viable pathway of low-carbon, climate resilient and resource efficient economic development.
• Carbon Trading has put a monetary value on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
• Recycling, or processing waste into new resources, is becoming policy and practice in many countries.
• Commercialization of renewable energy, with biofuels, solar and wind energy production growing.
• Chemicals Management has led to the banning of a number of deadly chemicals.
• Organic Products and eco-labeling are growing thanks to consumer demand.
• Nanotechnology is growing, especially in the fields of energy, health care, clean water and climate change.
The authors of the report point out that the lack of sufficient, solid data and monitoring systems to measure progress remains an obstacles to achieving the environmental goals set by the international community.The report highlights the missing pieces in our knowledge about the state of the environment, calling for global efforts to collect scientifically-credible data for environmental monitoring.
Rio Earth Summit: In 1992 the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, popularly known as the Rio Earth Summit, was convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to address the state of the environment and sustainable development. The meeting yielded several important agreements, including 'Agenda 21', a plan of action adopted by over 178 governments to address human impacts on the environment at local, national and global levels, as well as key treaties on climate change, desertification and biodiversity. In June 2012 will be the follow up meeting or Rio+20 in Brazil.