Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version


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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is proud and pleased to present the first report in the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) series.

This groundbreaking report presents information on the state of the global environment. It indicates that world-wide, profound changes continue to occur in social, institutional and economic systems. It reports on the continued impoverishment of large parts of the global population. It points to the increased disparities both within and between nations. It describes the environmental implications of rapid globalization, particularly through developments in information technology, transport and trade regimes. It shows us that significant progress has been made in confronting environmental challenges at the local, national, and regional level. In the end, though, GEO-1 concludes that, during the past decade, the environment has continued to degrade and significant problems still persist.

If there is one conclusion to be drawn from GEO-1, it is that despite progress, the pace at which the world is moving toward a sustainable future is simply too slow. Internationally and nationally, the funds and political will dedicated to halting further global environmental degradation are insufficient. We know that the knowledge and technological base to solve the most pressing environmental issues are available. However, the sense of urgency of the early 1990s is lacking.

By reporting on the state of the environment through its GEO series, UNEP is providing the world with an essential tool to speed up the pace of our environmental action, to set priorities, to provide an early warning system, and to support informed decision-making at all levels of society.

Since the Rio Conference in 1992, UNEP has broadened its scientific focus to better address the information requirements of international environmental policy setting and to help bridge the gap between scientific understanding and societal action. The GEO series places high priority on reflecting regional perceptions and realities, while at the same time reporting on the status of the global environment.

GEO-1 is designed to build consensus on critical environmental issues, setting priorities among the plethora of environmental concerns, and identifying issues that the international community needs to address. GEO-1 addresses regional policy responses and explores the possible future state of the global environment using a scenario of the future in which no major policy or structural changes would be implemented-an unlikely scenario indeed, and one which, we hope, the GEO report will help to divert.

In a single volume, and with a production time of slightly more than one year, not every environmental issue in every region can be covered in great detail. GEO-1, thus, should not be read as a comprehensive work on the state of the environment in a specific region. Rather, it should give the reader-whether a policy maker, a corporate leader, a student, an activist, or an interested citizen-a 'feel' for the priority environmental concerns in each region and the overall health of the planet, as well as giving a direction for possible environmental response strategies.

To promote participation and enhance distribution, UNEP is making this report simultaneously available on the Internet in electronic format. This is part of our commitment to improve the accessibility of our information products, by bringing them closer to the people that need them. At the same time, six companion technical reports are being published. These reports enlarge on the model exercises detailed in GEO-1, on alternative scenarios, and core data sets. They also highlight the use of remote sensing imagery to evaluate environmental changes over time over large areas, and detail the outcomes of the regional consultations on GEO-1.

UNEP hopes that GEO-1 will give a new impetus to international action on the protection and conservation of the environment, while at the same time promoting and caring for the development aspirations of nations and regions. We hope that the assessment process initiated with the Global Environment Outlook series will find the necessary policy and scientific support to be continued in the future, provide an effective means to link sectoral and regional assessments, and provide an overarching framework for ongoing international assessment activities, thus realising its full potential.

In looking to future reports, UNEP welcomes your comments and suggestions whether they relate to substance or style. Our goal is that by the turn of the century a truly global participatory assessment process may be operational to effectively keep under review the state of the world's environment, as well as to guide international environmental policy setting.

Elisabeth Dowdeswell
Executive Director
United Nations Environment Programme

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