Aerial view of Egypt’s drylands. Desertification is a global problem, but a UN treaty on the issue has largely been ignored. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
It seems world leaders may need to retake environmental studies. As the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development opens, the scientific journal, Nature, has evaluated the progress made on three treaties signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992: climate change, biodiversity decline, and desertification. Unfortunately the publication gives progress on all three treaties an ‘F’, highlighting how little progress has been made on the global environmental crisis.
Nature point out that world leaders have failed to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, which have actually increased by 45 percent between 1990 and 2010. Meanwhile while nations pledged to stem the loss in biodiversity by 2010, they failed to do so, and by all accounts overall biodiversity continues to decline. Finally a little-known treaty to stem desertification has not only failed to date, but has been largely ignored.
Not all the grades, however, were ‘Fs’. While Nature failed world leaders for overall climate action, they gave them ‘As’ on tracking greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, advancing climate research and policy, and establishing a diplomatic process. The problem is none of these actions have resulted in what really matters: cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
In terms of biodiversity, Nature gave nations an A when it came to regulating genetically modified organisms, and a ‘C’ for protecting ecosystems. However it gave nations a ‘D’ on developing biodiversity targets and the same on recognizing indigenous rights. But when it came to providing funding for biodiversity protection, world leaders were given an ‘F’.
There were no bright spots for efforts on desertification, however. World leaders were given a ‘D’ on developing indicators, since it took countries until 2009 to even develop indicators.
Although the report card has been released to coincide with the United Nation’s Rio+20 Summit, few observers are holding out any hope for an ambitious agreement that tackles issues like climate change, biodiversity, and desertification. In fact, these three issues have largely been sidelined at the summit. The agreement, which is still being haggled over, has been increasingly watered down. Still, observers are hoping for movement on protecting the oceans, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and granted more power to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
For more on Nature’s report card: Earth summit: Rio report card.
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
(06/06/2012) World leaders need to do much more to protect the Earth’s millions of species for the services they provide, according to a new scientific consensus statement in Nature based on over 1,000 research papers. Written by 17 top ecologists, the statement points out that despite growing knowledge of the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and survival, species continue to vanish at alarming rates. The statement comes just weeks before the UN’S Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which is supposed to chart a path for a less impoverished and more equitable world including an emphasis on greater environmental protections, but which has been marred by a lack of ambition.
(05/29/2012) Last year global carbon dioxide emissions rose 3.2 percent to a new record of 31.6 gigatons, keeping the planet on track to suffer dangerous climate change, which could propel global crop failures, sea level rise, worsening extreme weather, and mass extinction. According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), China’s carbon emissions rose the most last year (9.3 percent) while emissions in Europe and the U.S. dipped slightly. China is the currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, while the U.S. has emitted the most historically.
(03/28/2012) As North America recovers from what noted meteorologist Jeff Masters has called “the most incredible spring heatwave in U.S. and Canadian recorded history,” a new paper argues that climate change is playing an important role in a world that appears increasingly pummeled by extreme weather. Published in Nature Climate Change, the paper surveys recent studies of climate change and extreme weather and finds “strong evidence” of a link between a warming world and the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, and heatwaves—such as the one that turned winter into summer in the U.S.
(02/13/2012) Last year the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth due to global climate change, experienced its warmest twelve months yet. According to recent data by NASA, average Arctic temperatures in 2011 were 2.28 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above those recorded from 1951-1980. As the Arctic warms, imperiling its biodiversity and indigenous people, researchers are increasingly concerned that the region will hit climatic tipping points that could severely impact the rest of the world. A recent commentary in Nature Climate Change highlighted a number of tipping points that keep scientists awake at night.
(06/06/2011) If swift action is not taken to prepare farmers in the developing world for hotter, drier, shorter growing seasons, climate change may threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people by 2050. People in Africa and South Asia are particularly at risk of further impoverishment and hunger in a warmer world. According to the UN, a billion people are already going hungry worldwide.
(05/23/2011) Last week the 3rd Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability concluded with participants—including 17 past Nobel Prize winners and 40 other experts—crafting and signing the Stockholm Memorandum. The document calls for emergency actions to tackle human pressures on the Earth’s environment while ensuring a more equitable and just world.