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GEO Year Book 2003  
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GEO Indicators

Natural disasters
Coastal and marine areas
Global environmental issuess

The GEO Indicators are a set of selected quantitative parameters which reflect headline trends for the major global and regional environmental issues addressed under the GEO reporting process

The set of GEO Indicators aims to give a consistent and harmonized overview of the major environmental trends at global and regional levels on an annual basis, making it easy to track major environmental issues over the years. For each issue, only one or two indicators, or a few at most, are presented. These are considered to be the most suitable and reliable indicators currently available to illustrate the particular issue. Data for the present or even previous year can rarely be presented, because it usually takes two to three years to collect data from countries and compile global databases of high quality.

A lack of good-quality data continues to plague and limit indicator selection. Although there is a wealth of environmental information around nowadays, there are also many data gaps and shortcomings, at least with regard to robust, quantitative time series for many countries and regions of the world. Data in the economic and – to a certain extent – social domains are generally more widely available, reliable and well understood. In the environmental domain, data collection is often still at an early stage. High quality, comprehensive and timely data on the environment remains a scarce resource, and finding the ‘right’ information is not always easy or possible.

Important issues where data are inadequate include freshwater quality, marine pollution, waste generation and management, and land degradation. For other issues, such as freshwater use or hazardous waste transfer, we can currently only present a single year and show regional differences – not yet trends as such. Until such data sets are collected in a rigorous and timely manner, following internationally agreed standards and guidelines, significant difficulties will exist in assessing accurately the extent of these problems.

Knowledge and information gaps also limit the relevance and use of indicators in the decision-making process. For example, casualties and damage caused by natural disasters give at most a vague indication of the vulnerability of societies to environmental change. Likewise, although the observed retreat of glaciers around the world appears to be a very compelling indicator of global warming, the phenomenon could also be linked to other factors such as deforestation. Nevertheless, it is believed that the key trends in pressure, state and response dynamics for major environmental issues can still be successfully captured. As such, and not surprisingly, several of the indicators presented here coincide with those selected for monitoring the internationally agreed environmental goals and targets, including those in the Millennium Declaration (MDGs) and WSSD Plan of Implementation.

The GEO Indicators are grouped by environmental thematic areas and issues. Indicators are portrayed graphically with explanatory notes. Definitions of terms used, information sources and technical notes are provided in an Annex to this section. The definitions follow those given by the original data collecting agencies. The indicators are presented at the global, regional and, in a few cases, sub-regional level, based on the regional classification used in the GEO-3 report (UNEP 2002). All data and documentation have been extracted from the GEO Data Portal, which holds the reference database for use in the GEO assessment and reporting process (http://geodata.grid.unep.ch/).

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