IV - STATE-OF-THE-ENVIRONMENT REPORTS
1. In considering agenda item 6, at the 12th meeting of the session, the Council had before it a summary of the documentation under the item (UNEP/GC.15/7); the 1988 state-of the-environment report ("the public and environment") (UNEPIGC.1517/Add.1); the 1989 state of-the-environment report ("the state of the world environment") (UNEP/GC.1517/Add.2); the report of the Executive Director on emerging environmental issues (UNEP/GC.15/7/Add.3); the outline of 1990 state-of-the-environment report: children and the environment (UNEP/GC.15/7/Add.4); and a note by the Executive Director on the implementation of Governing Council decisions on state--of-the environment
2. Introducing the item, the Executive Director noted that document UNEP/GC.15/7 contained a summary of the other documents and had been considered by the Committee of Permanent Representatives in formulating the three draft decisions on the subject which were before the Council (UNEP/GC.15/L.6). The 1988 state-of-the-environment report, "The public and environment", had been circulated to Governments some time previously. It contained two basic findings: the importance of the role of women and the influence of the mass media. Women were generally more concerned about the environment, even in the poorer developing countries where they might be unaware of the existence of the term. The report gave a considerable amount of data about the role of women and the environment. Its last chapter was devoted to the role of the media. All studies showed that the media tended to concentrate on specific events, giving wide coverage to environmental disasters but providing little information about environmental risks or the follow up to catastrophes. It was therefore recommended that there should be training workshops in the UNEP public information programme for the personnel of the major media. The information contained in the report had been supplemented by a survey commissioned from the United States firm, Harris Polls, on the perceptions of policy makers and the general public about environmental issues. The survey had covered 14 different countries and the results had been similar everywhere, as had been the case in earlier surveys conducted in the States members of the European Communities and in the United States. The poll found that the general public considered that Governments were not doing enough about environmental matters. Women and the younger generation tended to be more sensitive to environmental issues than men and the older generation. However, over 80 per cent of those polled in the 14 countries came out strongly in favour of paying more, if necessary through taxation, to secure a better environment and were not prepared to trade the environment for more industrial development. The findings of the poll confirmed the information contained in the 1988 state-of-the-environment report and endorsed the activities of the Information and Public Affairs Branch.
3. Following the agreed practice of alternating general and specific reports between odd- and even-numbered years, the 1989 report entitled "The state of the world environment" was an update of previous reports. The outlook was not promising. Air quality monitoring showed that levels of sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter in many large towns were above the limits established by WHO. Cities in developing countries were generally more polluted than those in developed countries. According to WHO and UNEP assessments, water, particularly in rivers, was not as polluted as had been generally thought. However, many rivers contained large amounts of nutrients and, in developing countries, high concentrations of pesticides and nitrates. Progress in providing drinking water and sanitation had been slow: in 1982, 73 per cent of the urban population had had access to clean water; by 1989, the figure was 75 per cent. The corresponding percentages in respect of sanitation for rural populations had increased from 13 to 16. The situation with regard to marine pollution and the decline in biological diversity was no better.
4. Turning to the report on emerging environmental issues (UNEPIGC.1517/Add.3), the Executive Director said that it dealt with the two issues selected for detailed treatment by the Council at its fourteenth session: health risks from diesel vehicles and acid fog. He drew attention to the slight modification in the definition of "emerging environmental issues" as it appeared in paragraph 6 of the report. The report also described three environmental issues that had emerged during the period 1987-1989: new technologies and the environment; algal blooms in the sea; and Antarctica. The description of new technologies and the environment covered biotechnology. the semi-conductor industry and the use of video display terminals. Great interest had been shown in algal bloom outbreaks. The most recent outbreak, in the North Sea in 1988, had been the subject of a major action by the Nordic countries. He had been bringing up the question of the Antarctic region - from a purely environmental standpoint, completely unrelated to politics - since 1976.
5. Re suggested that the issues of Antarctica and new technologies and the environment might be those selected for more detailed elaboration in the report on emerging environmental issues to be submitted to the Council at its sixteenth regular session.