03 Oct 2019
10:00–12:00

Venue: International Environment House II (7-9 ch. de Balexert)

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

Under the theme of ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People,’ the sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) is an integrated assessment which considers various scientific perspectives and inputs from across the world in a holistic manner. The assessment urges the world’s decision makers and all citizens to apply the principles of sustainable development to help ensure that Earth’s environment remains the foundation of society and of people’s well-being and resilience.

The report, released a the last UN Environment Assembly, was presented at an event organized within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network.

Agenda

Welcome and introduction
Bruno POZZI, Director, Europe Office, UN Environment Programme

The 6th Global Environmental Outlook
Pierre BOILEAU, Head, Global Environment Outlook programme, UN Environment Programme

Pierre has led his team to complete 6 regional environmental assessments, and the global assessment for the sixth Global Environment Outlook, published in March 2019. His team worked closely with more than 160 experts and authors to produce the analysis contained in the publication. The findings are closely linked to pathways for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as well as a ‘Healthy Planet for Healthy People’, which is the theme of the report.

Q&A

Summary

Welcome

Bruno Pozzi, Director, Europe Office, UN Environment Programme

  • What is UNEP doing for the environment? – We do GEO6: we are a normative agency, we bring science, data and evidence that the environment is under pressure
  • It is a sum of all the evidence of the state of the environment
  • Incredible gathering of the scientific community – aim of UNEP is to bring together academics, decision-makers around the environment
  • Spread GEO6, advocate for change and the environment will benefit

Presentation of GEO6

Pierre Boileau, Head, Global Environment Outlook programme, UN Environment Programme

  • Positive images on the cover to give a sense of positivity for the world in 2050 (glaciers on top of mountains, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, electric vehicles, renewable energy, lots of biodiversity)
  • Things have gotten better in some places, but worse in some other places
  • Many funders and partners allow this project to be conduced
  • Many experts contributing to the report, plus advisory bodies on scientific credibility and policy-relevance of the report

Drivers of Environmental Change

    • Population à 9/10 billion people in 2050, most of the population growth will occur in the developing world
    • Demographics à older people living in richer countries, while younger people living in poorer countries
    • Urbanisation à 2/3 of the global population will live in cities, of those 2/3, around 1/3 will live in informal settlements and working in informal economy
    • Economic development à SDGs commitment to end poverty, moving people out of poverty into a more stable economic status, which will lead to an increased consumption
    • Technological change à can have both positive and negative outcomes related to the environment
    • Climate change à it is an environmental issue, but also a driver of environmental change
  • GEO6 is centred around 5 environmental themes: air, freshwater, oceans, land and biodiversity
  • Looks at them in a integrated fashion to see how they interact with one another

State of the environment: air

  • Air pollution à 6-7 million people dying prematurely, trend that will remain constant in 2050
  • Greenhouse gas emissions à likely to increase, but reduction in emissions leads to reduction in air pollution and cut downs healthcare costs
  • Ozone depleting substances à phased out the substances, but the ozone hole has not repaired as quickly as predicted because of climate change
  • Persistent and hazardous pollutants à still many, but can be get rid of with smart policies
  • Short-lived climate pollutants à reducing these pollutants will give benefits on the short term

State of the environment: biodiversity

  • Biodiversity is in crisis
  • Might be experiencing the 6th mass extinction on the planet
  • Much more complex problem, but omnipresent
  • 70% of poor people extract their livelihoods from biodiversity
  • 60% decline in the Living Planet Index between 1970 and 2014
  • Decline in vegetation in 10 out of 14 terrestrial habitats
  • 23% increase in overfishing since 1975
  • Loss of genetic diversity in crops

State of the environment: oceans

  • Coral reefs à bleaching events now every 6 years (10 years is the time needed for a coral to recover)
  • Fish stocks à fisheries are very important for the global economy as well as for livelihoods of 60 to 120 million people, but overexploitation has depleted many of the fish stocks
  • Marine plastics à 8 million tonnes of plastic every year mainly from mismanagement of waste on land

State of the environment: land

  • Food production à occupies 50% of habitable land
  • Monoculture crops à increased because of intensification process, but result in loss of biodiversity and nutrition
  • 77% of agricultural land is used for meat production
  • 1/3 of all food is wasted
  • Deforestation à deforestation rates have decreased, but reforestation rates are not as high – net deforestation globally
  • Urbanisation à account for 3% of habitable land

State of the environment: freshwater

  • At the same time public good and risk multiplier if it is polluted
  • 1.4 million people die every year because of polluted water
  • Antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance is growing
  • Freshwater ecosystems à 40% decline in wetlands, decline in species as well
  • 70% of freshwater is used for food production

Crosscutting issues

  • Human health à 9 million premature deaths in 2015
  • Environmental disaster à affect more and more people (3 billion in 2005-2015)
  • Energy à 1.2 billion people don’t have access to electricity
  • Chemicals à many chemicals in use, not all have full studies related to the impacts for environment and health
  • Waste
  • Education for Sustainable Development à part of most environmental programmes in universities and schools

State of data

  • Improvement in data quality and precision, but still gaps related to urbanisation, genetic diversity, …
  • Big data combined with AI to analyse large data sets
  • Citizens engaged in gathering environmental data
  • Traditional knowledge à help clarify complex connections, such as the link between the environment and social systems in indigenous communities

Measuring the environment-related aspects of SDGs: which targets and indicators are specifically related to the environment?

  • 93 indicators selected: for 2/3 of those data is insufficient
  • Tier three indicators: methodology to gather data does not exist and not enough countries are collecting data

GEO production of Derivative Products: targeted products for specific stakeholders
Ad hoc Global Assessment Dialogue: dialogue among the major assessments produced on the state of the environment (IPCC assessments, IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Global Resources Outlook, Global Environment Outlook)
Future of GEO à steering committee to report to UNEA5 on future trajectories
Effectiveness of policy-responses

  • Policy design – adapt policies to the country-specific context
  • Policy diffusion – successful policies are used as role models for policy-makers in other countries
  • Policy integration – integrate environmental concerns into other sectors
  • Policy coherence – environmental policies competing with other opposite policies are ineffective

Assessment of effectiveness of policies: difficult to evaluate as data and literature are missing, little tracking of policies is in place
Insufficient efforts to address the backlog of environmental problems à need for a systematic approach in policy development (based on three systems: energy, food, waste)
In a “business as usual” scenario can we reach the objectives of SDGs and other environmental agreements?

  • Most of the output-based SDGs are likely to be met
  • Most of the outcomes-based SDGs are not likely to be met
  • Most of others environmental agreements are not likely to be met
  • NDC to reducing emissions are not ambitious enough
  • Likely to have an increase of 3°C in 2050

In a “target seeking scenario” based on the systems of energy, food and waste, which are the targets and how do we reach them?

  • Energy demand will increase by 50% in 2050
  • To stay under 2°C increase, we need to reduce 80% of the fossil fuels
  • To stay under 1.5°C increase, we need to reduce 55% of emissions
  • Recommendation to bring down energy demand by increasing energy efficiency and decarbonizing the rest of the demand
  • Food demand will increase by 50% in 2050, but we need to reduce the environmental impact of food production by about 2/3
  • Recommendation to reduce dramatically food waste as well as increased diffusion of meat-free/meat-light diets

There are already projects that can lead to the achievement of objectives if scaled up

  • Need to start thinking in circular terms – circular economy
  • Transformational policies – policies that transform the way we do things dramatically


Questions

Indonesia: When you consider the Global Assessment Dialogue, does it intend to create a consolidated report on environmental issues? At the IPCC meeting last week in Monaco, for instance, discussing the latest IPCC report, the link with other assessments.
PB: The Global Assessment Dialogue started probably 8 or 10 months ago, out of a request from Member States to get together and try to find synergies across the assessments to make them more efficient and more cost effective, since what happened in the last year or so is that 4 land-related environmental reports were being prepared at the same time. The assessments all have their reason to be prepared, as their analysis slightly different issues related to land and they are good for those countries which want a deeper analysis of, say, desertification; however, as an overall product for the general public they are less informative. Therefore, the discussion began on a synthesis of the major assessments, which is likely to be the science-policy input to the Stockholm+50 Conference.

Charles Gore, Honorary Professor of the University of Glasgow: What were the key issues in the negotiating process of the summary for policy-makers? Were there some contentious issues? What were the axis of disagreement? Or was it very consensual?
PB: I would say this negotiation was quite unique, as it was more consensual than we thought it was going to be: for the most part nobody disagrees that transformational change is needed, nobody disagrees that a systemic approach is the best at bringing about that change. Of course, the report doesn’t say how to do it, since it has to be done differently for each country. That is the main challenge. It was not totally consensual, though, there were some differences of opinion, about technology transfers between developed and developing countries, for instance. The other main obstacle was the mention of meat-free and meat-light diets, as there are certain countries that have a very meat-dependent agricultural sector and they do not what a major environmental report to mention that.

International Labour Organisation: In the “GEO for Business” report, there’s a link between emissions and industry, breaking it down into specific sources of emissions. However, in the final report more systemic sources are listed, population growth or urbanization, for instance, which are difficult to change in the short-term. For the public and policy-makers, it would be easier to have the breakdown of emissions per specific sector, so to know where to cut emissions.
PB: These assessments are meant to be policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive, so it is frowned upon to say: “This particular sector has to do this”. We do have a carbon budget that is provided in the report for specific sectors, but even that was a bit controversial. I think that the “GEO for Business” report is essential to allow us to draft an emission scenario for a specific sector.

Intern at the Austrian Mission to the UN Office in Geneva and other international organizations: I was interested in what the “GEO for Youth” report will look like. To whom will it be addressed? To already organised and mobilized youth or the youth at large?
PB: The process has been running since June of last year and is targeted to what the UN considers a youth population, which means people 15 to 24 years-old. When the process started I asked the authors to think about a world without politicians, which is a bit difficult for them to think about, but the idea is to explain, even if we don’t have the political will to act, what the youth can do, individually, day to day, to actually move this thing forward. We wrote a chapter on individual sustainability actions, not just about individual changes, but actions as a group to influence the market. The second part of the question is about career paths: which career path can they choose that will contribute to sustainability? We wrote a chapter about career paths, green jobs and about where the markets might be going.

European Union: What can help to tackle the issue of climate change, in terms of multilateral meetings and discussions taking place in Geneva? Should we engage more from a Human Rights standpoint, from a security standpoint or from some other standpoint?
PB: I think the environmental community should get out of the bubble and start to engage with finance ministries, agriculture ministries through inter-ministerial dialogues. That would be a very positive thing. Link environment and sustainability with other fields, it is happening, the dialogue is starting, but progress is slow. If environment ministers do not speak to the finance ministers, then public investments will head towards traditional investments and away from sustainability. Of course, there is a Human Rights-based component to this dialogue: environmental impacts have huge impacts on equity, for instance; however, it is important to begin to talk about the money immediately so that future investments do not go towards the traditional economy and we can start to build a circular economy.
BP: It reflects a lot UNEP’s position on the issue that a systemic approach is needed. We must start thinking how an environment minister in a developing country, where the youth represents 40% of the population and it is not looking for environmental protection but for jobs, can justify to the finance minister or any other minister policies that put the environment first. This systemic discussion around circular economy and green jobs must be incorporated in the UN and in the national narrative. If we limit the discussion to the UNEP bubble we will not succeed.

Documents

Video

The event was live on Facebook.

Photos

See photos on BRS MEAS Flickr account.