Global Environment Outlook - An Overview of the Key Environmental Issues - Seeker's Thoughts

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Global Environment Outlook - An Overview of the Key Environmental Issues

Air pollution results in 6 million to 7 million premature deaths and losses of 5$trillion each year according to the United Nations Global Environment Outlook 2019 released by Environment Programme (UNEP).

Environmental issues often are interlinked - for example, air pollution contributes to early deaths while climate change leads to land degradation. But policies designed to address one problem often bring multiple benefits at the same time.

The UN Environment Program produces Global Environment Outlook reports (GEOs) to assess current environmental conditions and visualize possible future trends. Researchers from IFs were involved with contributing to GEO-6 which was released in March 2019.


Air pollution poses one of the greatest dangers to health and wellbeing worldwide. Globally, 99.99 of cities exceed WHO guidelines for PM2*5 (particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers). Sources include inefficient transport systems, household cooking using polluting fuels such as coal or wood pellets for heating purposes, industrial emissions from factories or forest fires in addition to desert dust storms and forest fires. Air pollution has been linked with heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer as well as chronic conditions like heart conditions like asthma as well.

Unsustainable production and consumption patterns are steadily degrading planetary health at an alarming pace, compounded with growing inequalities that threaten sustainable development efforts as well as all people having the chance to live well now and for future generations.

Human activities are driving ecosystems into decline, creating serious environmental, social, and economic consequences that threaten billions of people around the globe. Nearly one quarter of premature deaths and diseases worldwide can be traced to environmental degradation caused by humans; meeting our UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as Internationally Agreed Environment Goals is increasingly difficult due to these environmental degradation effects. UN Environment's 2019 GEO report clearly illustrates this fact with more urgent and sustained actions required urgently and sustainably repairing our planet while decreasing human exposure to risks, while providing multiple transformational pathways towards meeting these goals.


Water is essential to life, yet poor management and rising demand for it have led to significant environmental concerns. Water quality can often be affected by pollution from sources like industrial waste seeping into rivers and oceans; pesticide use in farming which contaminates groundwater; oil spills during shipping; deforestation leading to changes in soil composition with reduced oxygen levels; deforestation with reduced soil oxygen levels and poor sanitation practices.

Estimates suggest that one out of every four people lack access to safe drinking water, leading them to illnesses like dysentery. This issue is most pronounced in developing nations where building infrastructure for clean water distribution can be costly and time consuming.

Overconsumption is another significant issue, with developed countries using three times more water and ten times as much energy per capita than developing ones. Many believe that adopting more sustainable living practices would help ease these concerns - some religious traditions already promote eco-friendly values.

Human population, consumption and global trade growth has taken place at such an incredible rate that Earth is being depleted faster than it can replenish itself naturally. Pollution of air, land and water is contributing to food insecurity issues - in rich countries more plant-based diets can go a long way toward solving this problem as can reducing wastefulness; also by decreasing agricultural production which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and land degradation; with current trends continuing the planet may soon run out of natural resources and become degraded - estimates place Earth as having only few generations left of natural resources before


United Nations Environment's Global Environment Outlook report issued in March 2019 states that maintaining Earth health is one of humanity's greatest challenges, calling upon decision makers to tackle pressing environmental issues to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and internationally agreed environmental targets.

Due to unsustainable production and consumption patterns, increasing inequality, and rising resource use by humans, Earth's health is being compromised at an ever faster pace. This has resulted in unprecedented decline in its health.

An immense proportion of land on Earth has been transformed into agriculture since 1950, leading to erosion, water contamination, biodiversity loss and carbon emissions. Moving forward, it will be essential for agricultural systems to maximize land productivity per hectare (PYTH) while simultaneously minimising land degradation for sustainable global food supplies and protecting global natural resources.

Restoring ecosystems on food- and fiber-producing lands should generally avoid areas currently used for agriculture, as doing so could prompt conversion of more land for agricultural purposes and add further greenhouse gas emissions. Exceptions could include reforestation on steep slopes with special biodiversity benefits and draining peatlands which offer significant climate mitigation benefits with some tradeoffs for food production.

GEO's process and products - particularly its regional assessments - aim to provide information that supports environmental policy making at local, national and international levels. For this information to be effective it must be easily accessible and understood by key stakeholders and users - this practice is known as outreach.


At an alarming rate, global biodiversity is diminishing at an alarming pace. One million species are at risk of extinction; ecosystem health is declining; natural processes that protect us against climate change while providing clean air, water and food are being interrupted; all this threatens our wellbeing now and into the future. These environmental problems threaten human welfare now and in the future.

Biodiversity is essential to sustainable development and provides numerous critical services that benefit society, such as water filtration and pollination; carbon storage; and food security. Loss of biodiversity needn't be inevitable - we can take steps to combat it!

We must act now on land- and seascapes, transform food systems, and close the finance gap for nature. Furthermore, a new model of economic growth must put people and the environment first.

Biodiversity relies heavily on the actions taken by individuals, companies, governments and civil society - whether this involves protecting habitat or decreasing use of invasive species.

Climate change poses a threat to biodiversity by impairing organisms' abilities to adapt to their environment, impacting terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems alike.

Islands play an essential role in biodiversity conservation, supporting 20 per cent of world species despite covering less than 4 per cent of Earth's surface area. Unfortunately, island-endemic species are particularly susceptible to biodiversity loss as a result of habitat destruction, overexploitation and pollution.

Biodiversity loss increases the risk of species extinction and leads to ecosystem homogenization, as specialist species that have adapted specifically to narrow habitats, limited food resources or specific environmental conditions may experience dramatic population decline and eventual extinction more quickly than generalist species that can coexist in diverse environments. Such changes can reduce agricultural production while simultaneously making natural systems vulnerable against pests and diseases.


Waste disposal is an ever-increasing challenge throughout the world, leading to air and water pollution, land degradation and economic decline - all having devastating effects on human health and well-being. Rapid urbanization, population growth and economic development further worsen this situation; around three billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) is produced every year - this figure could increase by 70% without urgent action being taken against improper disposal of chemicals/toxins in landfills which lead to soil and groundwater pollution as well as being one of the major sources of methane emissions contributing to global warming.

These challenges represent just some of the many environmental obstacles we are currently facing, making it imperative that we take measures to preserve the future of humanity, so all people may enjoy prosperity and health in life.

UNEP's Global Environment Outlook (GEO) project addresses this need by identifying key environmental concerns, trends and emerging issues -- along with their causes, impacts and societal responses -- as well as providing information for international environmental policy formulation and action planning. GEO consists of a process and series of reports covering global state assessments; regional perspectives; explorations based on models; responses and directions by policy makers as well as policy responses themselves.

Our IFs team is delighted to have played an instrumental part in the preparation of GEO 6, due for release later in 2019. Steve Hedden served as lead author on both GEO 4 and 6, leading his own chapter "Outlooks," while Jonathan Moyer and Barry Hughes contributed significantly in its "Policy Responses and Directions" section.

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