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GEO Year Book 2004/5  
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There is much to be optimistic about when we review the state of the global environment, and how it has fared in 2004. Efforts towards environmental sustainability at the local, regional and global level are bearing fruit. As the links between environmental and human well being become clearer, many people and governments are taking action to move environmental protection centre-stage.

Concrete recognition of the central role of good environmental management reached a new peak in 2004. For the first time, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an environmentalist. Wangari Maathai won the award for promoting peace and democracy through environmental protection and regeneration. Professor Maathai's work has provided tangible proof that a healthy environment, and democratic and sustainable management of our natural resources, is a powerful key to overcome poverty and deliver a more stable and peaceful world.

Despite our best efforts, however, we cannot always avoid the bad news. By early December, following a series of hurricanes and typhoons, the global insurance industry had already declared 2004 the most expensive year for damage caused by weather-related disasters. There was much worse to come. Just as the Year Book was ready to go to press at the end of 2004, disaster struck in the form of the Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Over 220 000 people were killed in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Maldives and other countries as far away as Somalia on the east coast of Africa. Millions more were rendered homeless. The full scale of the disaster was still not clear as the year came to a close. First assessments of the devastation revealed that affected areas could take years to recover and that a substantial increase in the death toll was likely if diseases spread through flooding, contaminated water and lack of sanitation in the aftermath.

A UNEP Asian Tsunami Disaster Task Force was established immediately after the disaster to identify and help alleviate the environmental impacts of the disaster, and support efforts of the affected countries. At the same time we 'stopped the press' on the Year Book to insert an additional section on the Indian Ocean tsunami in the 2004 Overview, although information of the full human and environmental impact of the disaster was just trickling in.

Following a positive response to the first volume of the Year Book series, UNEP has retained the same formula for the GEO Year Book 2004/5, providing a global and regional overview of key environmental events and developments, including policy. A regional network of collaborators has been instrumental in identifying the most important issues, to fit a whole year's coverage into the slim Year Book format. There have been some innovations, however. We have introduced a full-page spread of satellite images at the end of each of the regional sections of the Overview chapter. Taking advantage of the latest technology, these images provide a vivid record of our rapidly changing environment.

The Feature Focus of the Year Book series analyses a crosscutting issue of universal relevance and increasing concern. It is designed to inform the deliberations of the UNEP Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF), which takes place in the first quarter of every year, and thereby contribute to the formulation of UNEP's input to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). Keeping this in mind, we chose to look at the links between gender, poverty and environment in this volume - key crosscutting issues in the CSD thematic cluster of water, sanitation and human settlements for 2004/5.

Klaus Töpfer
United Nations Under-Secretary General
and Executive Director,
United Nations Environment Programme

Science plays a vital role in understanding our increasingly complex world, helping us to deal with ongoing problems and to identify emerging issues. In preparing the Year Book, UNEP works with the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) to select and present important new policy-relevant findings from scientific research for the chapter on Emerging Challenges. The two topics for GEO Year Book 2004/5 are strongly linked to environmental change. The first explores how environmental change can trigger the emergence or re-emergence of infectious diseases, demonstrating the role of good environmental management in minimizing adverse trends. The second presents recent evidence of changes in ocean salinity and a step-by-step explanation of why this could have serious consequences.

The GEO Indicators chapter draws upon the most recent available data to present a range of key pressure, state, impact and response indicators. Many of them have featured in previous GEO reports. Time series and graphics are used to present a continuous picture of both positive and negative changes in the global environment. This year we have also introduced some new indicators, including on air quality, marine protected areas, and ozone protection.

UNEP is more than ever aware of its responsibility to keep the state of the global environment under close scrutiny, and bring positive and negative changes, unexpected trends and emerging threats to public attention - particularly to the attention of policy makers. The GEO Year Book series, part of a set of products developed within UNEP's GEO process for integrated environmental assessment, is one of our principal tools for doing just this. Along with the GEO Report, published every five years, the Year Book reaches out across the globe in different formats and languages, and is designed to appeal to a variety of audiences. I hope that you find it interesting and informative. As always, your feedback is very welcome.



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