Recently the Global Environmental Outlook no 4 (GEO4) appeared, issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report comes in two flavours: the full version of 164 pages and the “Summary for Decision Makers” (SDM), that counts only 32 pages and contains the main conclusions and recommendations. UNEP has published 3 earlier GEO assessments in 1997, 1999 and in 2002. Several other important reports that have been published in the past are:

Table 1 Other important environment documents

Report/Book Year
Club van Rome: The limits to growth 1972
Our Common Future 1987
Entropy into the greenhouse world 1989
GEO-1 report 1997

The GEO4 assessment has been produced and sincerely scrutinized by government policy makers, funding partners, scientists and other parties and can be considered as an important piece of consensus.

Key message is that “there is evidence of unprecedented environmental change at global and regional levels” and “these unprecedented changes are due to human activities in an increasingly globalized, industrialized and interconnected world”. Many examples are given to underline the key messages such as:

  • Availability of freshwater per capita is declining globally
  • Ozone hole is the largest ever seen
  • Poor people being the most vulnerable for environmental changes

The statement that the environmental change is due because of human action is important. Since, as pointed out by Al Gore, the fact that there is global warming is not so much disputed but that it is due to humans (and especially the developed world) is where the opponents of Gore disagree.

Then the report continues and expects the solution to come from “decision makers”: “decision-makers can promote timely action by integrating prevention, mitigation and adaptation efforts into the core of decision making”. I looked for a description of who the decision makers are but could not find one. I guess the report is referring to governments. There are many instruments that decision makers can use: property rights, market creation, fiscal measures, financial measures and liability systems. However, the total picture can be very complex as is illustrated by the GEO4 conceptual framework (see below).

GEO-4 Conceptual Framework


Copyright © 2007 John Schmitz