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GEO-3: GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK  
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... and a redirection of actions

Actions are taken in many regions to preserve major biodiversity hotspots. In Europe and North America, major efforts are made to establish large-scale networks of protected areas and green corridors. Some of the most significant activities hinge on the management of common resources. Ocean fisheries receive greater attention. For this and other reasons, the high Arctic regions and the continent of Antarctica are increasingly recognized as part of a common global heritage. A fundamental revision of the Antarctic legal regime sets an example for similar action in the Arctic, where indigenous groups play a significant role, individually and through the Arctic Council. It becomes widely accepted that the polar regions have to be maintained as places apart, with special rules regarding human activity.

Cooperation on these and other issues also prompts moves to address the tensions at the root of many ongoing conflicts. Sometimes these conflicts and their impact on other regions catalyse the formation of broad coalitions. The changing nature of security threats, as evidenced in the early part of the century and the pressures from businesses and other groups with strong cross-national connections, push nations towards increasingly multilateral efforts on many issues. At other times, the resolution and avoidance of conflicts are the results of networks and policies that have been established for other purposes. For example, as borders become more open and responsibility shifts from the nation state both downward to more local levels and upward to more multinational levels, many disputes in countries and in border areas in several regions, calm down or fade away entirely.

'What is new in the current discussion is the willingness of people to reflect upon the positive and negative aspects of their own actions and legacies as well as those of other cultures.'

Underlying many of these shifts are policies to boost transparency and accountability. These policies include more and better certification and labelling requirements, often building upon efforts started by industry. The Forest Stewardship Council, Global Forest Watch and Marine Stewardship Council spawn similar efforts focusing on other resources. These efforts in turn influence other areas of policy, such as trade, foreign debt and the enforcement of multilateral environmental treaties. In the developing world, a major investment programme is undertaken to strengthen capacities of governments, businesses (especially small and medium enterprises), NGOs and local communities to develop, access and use information. These changes are reflected in increased monitoring and communication. As much as any other business sector, the commercial media has shifted away from a pure emphasis on profit towards establishing a broader role in society.

There are also fundamental shifts in terms of how the data used to track development are measured, analysed and presented. Aggregate figures that hide discrepancies between, for example, genders and social groups, or between urban and rural areas, give way to more disaggregated data collection and reporting. The changes are highlighted by the continuing evolution of the United Nations System of National Accounts, especially the shift away from Gross Domestic Product as the major indicator of development. Environmental, economic and social indicators track real progress at all scales - business, national, regional and global - giving the public a more informed basis for seeking change. New technologies also play a big role, both as catalysts for, and in response to, many of these changes.

Developments in information and communication technologies enable groups to connect to and learn from each other, by sharing success stories, but also by exposing behaviour, whether legal or illegal, existing or planned, that gives cause for disquiet. These technologies also become more instrumental in coordinating social, political and economic activities. They are the natural medium for a new consciousness, providing a sense of immediacy and unity to a diverse and pluralistic movement.

New technologies play an instrumental role in progress towards goals already set. Among such advances are improvements in energy and water use efficiency, desalination and medical technologies and treatment. These breakthroughs are closely linked to general developments in the areas of nano-technology and biotechnology. Governments, businesses and other private organizations stimulate much of the technological development, not only by direct investment in research and development, but also by offering worthwhile prizes for new developments.

In the areas of biotechnology and genetic engineering, there is strong awareness of potential issues related to biosafety, bioterrorism and moral concerns. Biotechnology also becomes increasingly linked to biodiversity research within regions. Concerns over genetic engineering continue to run high, but they are eased somewhat as developments in this area take on a more regional profile, both in terms of who is undertaking and benefiting from the research and the raw materials used in the processes. Carefully controlled studies in many regions, including Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa, highlight the use of endemic resources.

Small and large businesses, in partnership with NGOs, provide valuable support in setting standards and guidelines, technology transfer and mentoring programmes. They also take greater responsibility for the whole life cycle of projects and products. This includes not only activities related to normal practice, but also those related to infrastructure development, recovery of post-consumption wastes, capacity building and preparing employees and communities for periods of transition, such as when projects end or operations shift to another locality.