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GEO5, Global Environment Outlook: Summary for policy makers

A complete overhaul of the way the planet is managed is urgently needed if the challenges of global sustainability are to be met for seven billion people.

This is the conclusion of a wide-ranging Foresight Process conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), involving a Foresight Panel and 400 leading scientists and experts from around the world.

UNEP’s Foresight Process was an eight-month process  to identify and rank the most pressing emerging issues in the sphere of the environment- issues which perhaps do not currently receive the attention they deserve - but which have a huge impact on the planet and on human well-being.
While the scientific community is on the frontline of assessing emerging threats and finding innovative solutions to environmental challenges, the report reveals that they need more support from international political and delivery structures if real progress is to be made and a sustainable century realized.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The Foresight Process has brought a unique and sharp focus to the emerging issues the world is facing. It is a snapshot of expert scientific opinion, underlining how even long standing issues such as governance, food security and water scarcity are evolving and metamorphosing as accelerating environmental change presents fresh and fundamentally new challenges”.

“The findings dovetail with the summary for policy makers of GEO-5, which comes in advance of the full report - to be launched in early June- just weeks before Rio+20. The final report  will offer the analysis and the scientific foresight that can not only inform governments, the public and civil society on just how far the current development path is stretching the planet and fast forwarding 'tipping points'. It hopefully will be also read, understood and digested by everyone interested in transforming sustainable development from theory and patchy success into implemented day to day practice,” he said.

UNEP’s Foresight Panel consists of 22 distinguished members of the scientific community from 16 developing and industrialized countries, covering all world regions and who are internationally recognized because of their expertise in one or more environmental or related issues.

The Panel, whose findings were released today at the opening of the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, selected a preliminary list of 21 emerging issues after a first round of debate on more than 90 issues.

These were put out for consultation and feedback from more than 400 leading scientists and researchers worldwide.

Based on their responses, the panel produced a ranked list of “21 Issues for the 21st Century”, concluding that the number one issue facing the planet isAligning Governance to the Challenges of Global Sustainability.  

The current system of international environmental governance, with its maze of interlocking multilateral agreements evolved during the 20th century, is believed by the vast majority to be unsuitable and ill-equipped to meet the risks and deliver the opportunities for the 21st century.

Some commentators believe that this system lacks the necessary representativeness, accountability and effectiveness for the transition to sustainability, and that a much higher level of participation and transparency is needed.

New models of governance are being tested, ranging from public-private community partnerships to alliances between environmentalist and other civil society groups. However, the effectiveness of novel governance arrangements is unclear and requires further scrutiny.

The second most pressing emerging issue is Transforming Human Capabilities for the 21st Century: Meeting Global Environmental Challenges and Moving towards a Green Economy.