Climate Change Politics

Our Neighbors Are Dying

Our planet is dying and we have been watching it slow to act. Some of our neighbors have already passed away and more are dying right now. By the time you get done reading this and go onto something else another one of them will have gone extinct.

It has been nearly a decade since the UN released the previous Global Environment Outlook. GEO-6 was released this year. The Global Environment Outlook is the most reliable assessment of the state, trends and perspectives of the global environment. The report was produced over three years through a process involving six hundred specialists from around the world, who collected and analyzed data from all continents to build a detailed view of the planet's well-being. (GEO-1 in 1997, GEO-2000 in 1999, GEO-3 in 2002, GEO-4 in 2007, GEO-5 in 2012 and GEO-6 in 2019) is just another in a long line of assessments, but what has changed?

Climate change is on everyone's lips but little is being done to address or stop major culprits. The current trend to look to the easy or sensationalized topics like drinking straws allows one side to get upset because their "liberties" are being "robbed." While the other becomes frustrated by the diversionary dialog that is raised by these selective topics.

If current models are not changed, greenhouse gas emissions can double over the next fifty years, causing an increase of 3° C or more in the planet's temperature by the end of the century.

Although Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for a relatively modest 12% of the world's greenhouse gases (GHGs), the region is already experiencing the negative consequences of climate change and its variability. Climate change exacerbates many of the environmental problems, as well as threatening the achievements of development, poverty reduction and economic growth.

The number of people affected by extreme climate-related phenomena in Latin America and the Caribbean increased from five million in the 1970s to more than 40 million in the last decade. Beyond developments related to climate, poverty, marginalization, exclusion from decision-making processes, inadequate education and poor basic infrastructure, are among the factors that accentuate the vulnerability of Region. As vulnerability to climate impacts increases, addressing the underlying factors that cause this risk becomes a priority.

Four independent studies highlight that the decade between 2000 and 2009 was been the hottest in history (few took note), and in this decade we have finally stopped to reflect how hot things have really gotten. The rate of emissions caused by the use of fossil fuels and cement production was the highest recorded to this is the date.

It is estimated that by 2100, if temperatures rise by 2.5° C, climate change will cause annual economic damage equivalent to between 1% and 2% of world GDP.

Air pollution

Around 20% of vertebrate species are threatened.

Coral reefs have deteriorated by 38% since the 1980s, indicating that they are the living organism whose risk of extinction is increasing the fastest. A rapid contraction is expected in 2050.

More than 30% of the land area is devoted to agricultural production, which has led to a decline of more than 20% of natural habitats since the 1980s.

Despite all this, some progress is seen in policy responses, such as the extension of coverage of protected areas and the distribution of genetic resources and their benefits.

Access and Benefit-sharing

The "Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from Their Use", which entered into force in 2015. It was the first to recognize the right of indigenous and local communities to regulate access to traditional knowledge in accordance with its customary norms and practices.

In the pharmaceutical field, for example, 90% of patents related to marine biodiversity are held in ten countries.

Full data on the number of agreements, the number and distribution of beneficiaries and the scope and sustainability of the benefits from genetic resources can be found in the GEO-6 fact sheets.

Protected Areas

Biodiversity plays a vital role in maintaining essential ecosystem services, while being threatened by a number of interrelated factors. These include habitat loss due to conversion, alteration and pollution of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems due to intensive economic activities. The deterioration of biodiversity has economic, social and environmental impacts on the local and global population, addressing its pressures requires equitable, evidence-based, participatory and cross-sectoral policies.

Protected areas cover almost 13% of the land area, although only 1.6% of marine areas, relative to the 17% and 10% targets respectively, set for the coming year (2020) by the Aichi targets approved in 2011, nearly ten years ago.

Protected areas not only play an important role in the conservation of species and habitats, they also provide ecosystem services, which are considered critical in climate change mitigation and adaptation and provide a number of valuable social benefits.

Information gaps on their location, scope, legal status and effectiveness, as well as some safety issues, undermine the conservation work of protected areas. Priorities for action include the distribution of adequate resources and the establishment of management provisions and clear indicators for assessing their effectiveness.

Fish populations

In the last three decades we have seen an unprecedented deterioration in fish stocks.

Although marine catches increased more than fourfold from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s, they have since stabilized, despite increased fishing.

By the year 2000, marine catches would have grown by between 7% and 16% had it not been due to population depletion. This, in economic terms, means losses of between $4000 million and $36 billion.

Commercial fisheries and overfishing are the two main threats of fish stocks. In 2007, Fishery Stewardship Council certified fishery products accounted for only 7% of the world's fisheries.

Marine protected areas have proven to be useful conservation tools. Recent surveys show that fish stocks are larger within the reserves than in the surrounding areas and in those same areas before the reserve was created.


Only one of the thirty environmental targets analyzed in this regard—increased access to clean drinking water—shows significant progress.

However, less progress has been made in rural areas, especially in Africa and the Pacific.

Latin America and the Caribbean account for 31% of the world's freshwater resources and 30 different mangrove ecosystems located in the continental-marine transition zone. The availability of safe drinking water in sufficient quantity and quality was proclaimed a human right in July 2010, under UN Decision 64/292, and has been recognized in the constitutions of some LAC countries. The availability of quality drinking water in sufficient quantities is essential for human dignity, quality of life and poverty alleviation. Effective water management policies that improve the efficient use of water resources and promote their allocation between conflicting uses should be implemented to achieve the objectives set out in paragraph 26 (c) of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

Quantity and water quality

Despite some progress, water quality remains one of the main reasons for health problems around the world.

In turn, climate change and increased population growth can lead to even greater water shortages in some regions.

Water quality in at least some of the most important river systems still does not meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards in this regard.

More than 600 million people were expected to gain access to safe drinking water in 2015 and yet more than 2.5 billion people still do not have access to basic sanitation services.

Increasing water scarcity forces some regions to rely more heavily on energy-intensive desalination technologies.

It is estimated that between $9000 million and $11 billion per year will be spent in 2030 on additional infrastructure for sufficient water supply, especially in developing countries.

Reducing water pollution could generate health benefits valued at more than US$100 million in the OECD's large economies alone.

Nitrate concentrations due to fertilizer water contamination are expected to cause serious threats to human health and aquatic life.

Although freshwater pollution appears to continue to increase, adequate follow-up work has been reduced in many regions to fully understand the effects.

Groundwater Depletion

Water extractions have tripled in the past fifty years, and since 2000 there has been an even greater deterioration in groundwater supplies.

Agriculture is responsible for 92% of the world's water footprint, and many agricultural production centers around the world rely especially on groundwater, such as northwestern India, northeastern Pakistan, northeastern China and the western States in the US.

Integrated Water Management

In order to address the current and future challenges posed by the water problem, it is necessary to develop and strengthen integrated water management as well as appropriate monitoring tools.

Currently, of the 263 international freshwater basins, around 158 do not yet have cooperative management frameworks.

The lack of sufficient information, the lack of comprehensive monitoring systems and water safety indicators that allow trends to be followed over time are other obstacles to better water management.

Related policies include those associated with the implementation of economic and financial instruments that strengthen areas such as water governance, as well as improved information on water quality and quantity.

Marine Pollution

Little progress has been made in preventing, reducing or controlling pollution of the marine environment.

The number of dead coastal areas has increased dramatically in recent years. Only 13 of the world's 169 dead coastal areas are recovering, and 415 coastal areas are eutrophication.

About 80% of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities.

Of the twelve seas analyzed between 2005 and 2007, the South-East Pacific, the North Pacific, the East Asian Sea and the Caribbean contain the largest amount of marine waste.

Despite some gaps in its implementation, the ratification of the MARPOL Convention by 150 countries resulted in the reduction of ship pollution.

The governance of the cross-border marine areas is weak and fragmented.

Extreme Events

GEO-5 emphasized the need to strengthen work to prevent and mitigate the impact of extreme events, such as disasters caused by climate change. River channeling, loss of rainwater plain, urbanization and new land uses are important environmental factors that increase the impact of floods and droughts.

Floods and droughts increased by 230% to 38%, respectively, between the 1980s and the 2000s, and the number of people exposed to flooding increased by 114%.

The coast's adaptation to climate change is estimated to cost between $26 billion and $89 billion in the decade beginning in 2040, depending on sea level rise.

Land Management

Little progress has been made to address desertification and droughts, some improvements in access to food have been achieved. Excessive demand for food, feed, fuel and raw materials intensifies pressures on land, leading to deforestation.

Progress has been made on deforestation globally. Thus, forest loss fell from 16 million hectares in the 1990s to 13 million hectares between 2000 and 2010. Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are jointly responsible for the loss of more than 7 million hectares per year between 2005 and 2010. Yet that number has drastically increased in the 2010s. 50 million hectares are in danger of being destroyed this decade, a drastic change to the zero deforestation pledge of the 2000s.

Improving governance and building capacities are key to implementing more sustainable land management systems.

Agricultural development, fossil fuel and mineral extraction, forestry, urban development, increased tourism in coastal and other areas, as well as land tenure systems, must be addressed from the scope of the effective land management policies that prevent soil degradation and to re-enable those that are deteriorated.

Chemicals and Waste

Progress has been made on heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and radioactive waste.

However, more than 90% of water samples and fish extracted from aquatic media are contaminated by pesticides. Persistent organic pollutant (POP) contamination has also spread and particularly affects remote areas, such as the Arctic and Antarctica.

New issues calling for attention include the urgent implementation of appropriate electrical and electronic waste management systems and the challenges posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals, plastics in the environment, open burning and the production and use of nanomaterials in many common products.

Regional perspectives

There are a number of key issues and examples of effective policies that, if urgently expanded and implemented, can contribute to the transition to a Green Economy.

Population growth and increased consumption are common problems in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. In Africa and Asia and the Pacific, they are aggravated by a rapid urbanization process that puts greater pressure on the depletion of natural resources.

Climate change is a global problem.

Examples of success—from a new understanding of the value of forests to ecosystems in Kenya to the introduction of payment for ecosystem services in Vietnam or the adoption of policies that have reduced deforestation in the Amazon— show, that you can move forward on this path.

Europe and North America maintain unsustainable consumption levels. In North America, in particular, the growth of the renewable energy industry has slowed.

European policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as the congestion tax, show that change is possible. The same is true in North America, where the electricity grid has been flexed to expand the introduction of renewable energy and taxes on carbon taxes have been applied in Quebec and British Columbia.

West Asia faces worsening water scarcity, soil degradation and sea level rise, but may be inspired by some policies being implemented elsewhere, such as water resource management in Yemen , Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, or the rehabilitation of grasslands in Syria.

GEO-6 included a regional chapter on Latin America and the Caribbean, which proposed policies which generated improvements, Areas addressed reflected environmental issues in five priority areas: biodiversity, water, land, climate change and environmental governance.

Countries in the region share a number of common environmental challenges despite their heterogeneity. These include climate change, biodiversity loss and concern about water and land management. Coastal and marine issues, urbanization, poverty and inequality are also a high priority.

Policies in the region can only be effective if they succeed in reducing the gap between science and policy-making. Such research should include, where knowledge is relevant, local and indigenous wisdom, an important feature of the LAC region. Researchers and policy makers must continuously work together to acquire relevant knowledge and innovation information to apply to environmental decision-making.

The policies and instruments on display require a solid environmental governance base to ensure their effectiveness. To achieve this favorable condition, strong institutional adjustments and appropriate policy frameworks are needed, while public participation, monitoring and evaluation, education and a culture of environmental awareness are fundamental to their successful operation.

To be sustainable, the region's natural capital must be managed in an integrated way across all sectors. To respond to the region's complex nature of the environment and its opportunities and challenges, policies must be designed and implemented in a way that transcends the traditional compartmentalized approach based on sectoral rapprochement. This will help the region with some of its persistent environmental problems and other associated socio-economic problems, including social, poverty and inequality conflicts.

Plans have been developed and implemented which produce good examples of transformation allocated approaches and policies. These are usually at the national and sub-national levels and offer opportunities to be replicated, both inside and outside the region. Its characteristics generally include the effective incorporation of scientific information, knowledge and best practices; links between strong governance sectors and mechanisms, stakeholder participation, and political will and support.

Development need not be achieved at the expense of the environment or the populations that depend on it, and GEO-6 describes some potential paths that can be followed to avoid it. In fact, many of the projects it analyses demonstrate that a greater understanding of the value of natural resources can serve as a stimulus for development.

A new definition of the concept of wealth that goes beyond gross domestic product and includes indicators of sustainability is the best way to increase the standard of living and well-being of all communities, especially those of developing countries.

The report makes the following specific recommendations:

More reliable data is needed to make informed decisions about environmental resources and to measure progress towards internationally agreed targets.

  • Clear long-term environmental and development objectives are needed, as well as greater accountability for international treaties.
  • Capacity building to support environmental information, especially in developing countries, should be significantly strengthened.
  • Changes must be made both in the short term and include technological, governance and investment measures, as well as changes based on a shift in mindset towards values based on sustainability and equality.
  • Achieving transformation requires an accelerated, gradual and constant transition process. While some strategic innovations are already taking place, they need to be generalized.
  • International cooperation is essential, as environmental problems do not address borders. Global responses can play a key role in setting goals, creating financial resources, and making it easier to share best practices.

Although responses at the national and regional levels have been satisfactory, only equitable, efficient and effective results will be achieved from a polycentric governance approach.

Improving human well-being depends on the ability of individuals, institutions, countries and the global community to respond to environmental change.

Global Environment Outlook provides an opportunity to assess achievements and weaknesses, as well as to foster global responses to transformation.

Further Reading