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Overview 2004: Timeline


Cyclone Heta strikes the island of Niue, causing severe damage to the West Coast. Residential and commercial sectors in the capital Alofi are devastated.

A study published in Nature reports that climate change could drive over a million species into extinction by 2050.



Tropical Cyclone Ivy affects more than 54 000 people in Vanuatu. Early warning by the Bureau of Meteorology limits deaths and injuries to two persons killed and one seriously injured. Over 95 per cent of water supply systems in the affected islands are damaged, along with 11 000 houses and about half of the health centres.

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade enters into force.

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments is adopted at the International Conference on Ballast Water Management, in London. The convention aims to halt the global spread of alien aquatic organisms carried in ships’ ballast waters.

The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels enters into force. It aims to stop or reverse population declines through conservation measures, including research and monitoring, reducing mortality in fisheries, eradicating non-native species at breeding sites, and reducing disturbances, habitat loss and pollution.

The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 7), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, adopts a programme to establish and maintain protected areas in representative ecosystems by 2010 for terrestrial areas, and by 2012 for marine areas. CBD COP 7 decides to develop indicators to assess and report on progress in achieving the 2010 target, and adopts the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

CBD COP 7 also serves as the First Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The meeting sets up a framework to implement the Protocol, and adopts mechanisms to promote compliance.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety adopts a new system of identification and labels for all bulk shipments of Genetically Modified Organisms and Living Modified Organisms.

Hundreds of researchers launch ‘SPLASH – Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks’, the most comprehensive ongoing study of endangered humpback whales to date.

In a statement released at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and at CBD COP7, over one thousand marine scientists from 69 countries call for urgent action from governments and the UN to protect deep sea coral and sponge ecosystems.

United States Pentagon officials warn that abrupt climate change poses a major worldwide security threat that could result in wars, nuclear conflict, large-scale droughts, famine, and other disasters.

UNEP-WCMC publishes the Cloud Forest Agenda – a first mapping of all the world’s tropical montane cloud forests – to encourage new conservation actions for the forests. More than 60 countries have cloud forests.


The Mauna Loa Observatory registers an unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to 379 parts per million.

Arctic Environment: European Perspectives is released by UNEP and the European Environment Agency. The report highlights Europe’s growing dependence on the Arctic’s resources, and the increasing pressures on them.

Saudi Arabia launches a US$200 000 prize to promote scientific research in environment management in the Arab region. It will be awarded every two years.

Canada launches the One-Tonne Challenge, encouraging Canadians to cut their annual greenhouse gas emissions by one tonne.

Republic of Korea hosts the first UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum to be held in Asia, attended by close to 100 ministers and delegations from over 120 countries. Main issues under discussion: delivering safe and sufficient water, providing better sanitation services, and dust storms.

An Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in Montreal, Canada, addresses methyl bromide issues, left unresolved at the 15th Meeting of the Parties in November 2003. Compromise is reached on the levels of production and consumption of methyl bromide necessary to satisfy critical needs of some parties.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announces the establishment of an Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation to mobilize funds for water and sanitation projects, and to raise awareness and develop new partnerships on these issues.

The Executive Board of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) begins registering projects.

A study published in Nature finds that the growth patterns of forests in the Amazon have changed over the past two decades: both tree mortality and tree growth have increased over time, possibly due to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Brazil announces a new plan to reduce deforestation, based on satellite monitoring systems.


The Arab Water Council is established to promote better management of water resources in the 22 Arab states.

The Greater Mekong Subregion Atlas of the Environment, covering Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Chinese province of Yunnan, is published by UNEP and the Asian Development Bank.

Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica set up a linked chain of marine protected areas covering 211 million ha, including the Galápagos Islands. It is considered the first ever attempt to pursue integrated ecosystem management across political jurisdictions.

In New York the 12th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development reviews implementation of water, sanitation and human settlement goals.

The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee meets in Paris to review progress toward the goals set under the United Nations Millennium Declaration. It notes that Overseas Development Aid has increased by 11 per cent over the last two years, reversing declines in the previous decade.

The Environmental Vulnerability Index is launched by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. The index integrates both ecological fragility and economic vulnerability.


UNEP-WCMC launches the Bamboo Biodiversity report, indicating that as many as half of the world’s 1 200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction.

The African Ministerial Meeting on Energy, in Nairobi, Kenya, adopts an African Statement on Renewables, calling on development partners to help Africa develop and manage its renewable resources sustainably.

The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting XXVII, in Cape Town, South Africa, appoints an inaugural Executive Secretary, more than 10 years after consensus was reached, at ATCM XVII in 1992, to establish a Secretariat.

A cyclone hits the state of Rakhine in Myanmar, killing an estimated 220 people and leaving more than 18 000 homeless.

Brazil introduces an emergency plan against the invasion of the freshwater mussel (Limnoperna fortunei), which has become a plague in the Rio de la Plata estuary.

The EU expands from 15 to 25 member countries. The new members are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the SlovakRepublic and Slovenia.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants enters into force on 17 May. A ‘dirty dozen’ of industrial chemicals blamed for causing deaths and birth defects are now outlawed.

The Wastewater Emission Targets – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene campaign (WET-WASH), aimed at reducing pollution of the world’s seas, is launched by UNEP and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

FAO releases its State of Food and Agriculture report, endorsing agricultural biotechnology and highlighting its potential benefits for developing countries.

Monsanto, the world’s largest distributor of GM seeds, announces it will defer efforts to introduce Roundup Ready wheat.


World Environment Day, which annually promotes worldwide awareness of the environment, embraces the theme ‘Wanted! Seas and Oceans – Dead or Alive?’

The UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Eminent Persons on UN-Civil Society Relations releases its report, We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance. The report says the UN should foster ‘multi-constituency’ processes that incorporate the perspectives and abilities of citizen groups, policy advocates, businesses, local governments and parliamentarians. It sees dialogue and collaboration with non-state actors as a powerful way to reinvigorate the intergovernmental process.

The worst monsoon flooding in 15 years hits Bangladesh, Nepal and parts of east India. More than 1 800 people are killed and more than 42 million affected.

The 4th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health is held in Budapest, Hungary. The WHO Conference focuses on the future of our children.

The first meeting of environment ministers from Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile) is held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The MERCOSUR Framework Agreement on the Environment enters into force.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture enters into force. Its objectives are the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food, food security and agriculture, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use.

The International Conference for Renewable Energies takes place in Bonn, Germany. The resulting International Action Programme contains over 156 concrete actions and commitments.

The International Conference on Fifty Years of Nuclear Power meets in Moscow and Obninsk, Russian Federation. This meeting marks 50 years since electricity produced by nuclear power was first fed into a national grid at Obninsk.

The G8 Summit meets in Georgia, US. Governments agree to launch in 2005 the ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Initiative’, to cut down on waste, promote recycling, reduce barriers to trade in goods and materials for recycled and remanufactured products, and promote relevant science and technologies.

The United Nations University opens the Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany, with the aim of enhancing the capacity of governments to respond to disasters.

German-based chemicals and healthcare company Bayer AG agrees to support UNEP’s strategy to involve youth in environment issues through a US$ 1.33 million a year partnership.


More than 500 children from over 40 countries attend the Fifth Tunza International Children’s Conference on the Environment in Connecticut, US. The four main themes are: endangered species; indigenous peoples and their healing ways; oceans, rivers and waterways; and resource conservation.

The 56th session of the International Whaling Commission, in Sorrento, Italy, agrees to keep its 18-year long moratorium on commercial whaling, though calls to establish new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific or the South Atlantic are rejected.

The Third Science Conference of the Large-scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia convenes in Brasilia, Brazil. Key studies show that: the Amazon is a net emitter rather than absorber of greenhouse gases; and approximately two-thirds of the carbon dioxide-equivalent gases produced annually in Brazil come from logging and burning of the forest.

UNEP launches the ‘Responsible Investment Initiative’, under which it will work with major institutional investors to develop a set of globally recognized principles for responsible investment by September 2005.

Frozen Ark – the first tissue bank aiming to freeze and preserve genetic material from endangered species around the world – is established in the United Kingdom. The first animals to enter the Frozen Ark will include the yellow seahorse, scimitar horned oryx and Partula snails.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef becomes the world’s largest marine protected area. A new zoning plan increases the MarinePark and World Heritage Area’s ‘no-take’ zones, where all types of extraction are banned, from 4.5 per cent to 33.3 per cent of the reef.



The Olympic Games take place in Athens, Greece. The games’ environmental strategy includes efforts to improve green spaces, environmental awareness and performance, waste management and recycling, environmentally friendly transportation, and biodiversity protection initiatives.

The Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) – a regional trading group in Central and Western Asia – and UNEP agree to joint action to promote renewable energy sources, toughen green laws and encourage eco-friendly tourism in the area.

The first assessment of the state of the environment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is launched by the UNEP and DPRK officials.

The Joint Monitoring Programme on Water Supply and Sanitation of WHO and UNICEF releases Meeting the MDG Drinking-Water and Sanitation Target: A Mid-Term Assessment of Progress. The report provides the latest data on how countries are making progress on their national commitments to improve international water and sanitation goals.

Earthdive, an initiative in which professional and amateur divers will help record the health of the marine environment including coral reefs, mangrove swamps and coastal waters, is launched by UNEP-WCMC.



Environment ministers and senior officials from around the Pacific meet in Pape’ete, French Polynesia, to discuss the critical challenges facing Pacific countries and territories. The meeting strongly endorses a new action plan for managing the environment of the Pacific islands region.

The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat is established and begins work in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The first Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention meets in Geneva, adding 14 additional chemicals to the Convention, and successfully adopting decisions required to make the legally binding PIC Procedure operational.



The Third International Nitrogen Conference, in Nanjing, China, issues the Nanjing Declaration urging policy makers to optimize nitrogen management in food and energy production, while minimizing its environmental impacts, such as eutrophication of ecosystems and damage to the ozone layer.

The first Global Women’s Assembly on Environment: Women as the Voice for the Environment (WAVE) is held at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, organized by the Network of Women Ministers for Environment and UNEP.

The Nobel Committee announces that Professor Wangari Maathai, Assistant Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Kenya and founder and chair of the Green Belt Movement, is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The 13th Meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is held in Bangkok. Some 1 200 participants from 154 governments and numerous observer organizations agree to strengthen wildlife management, combat illegal trafficking and update the trade rules for a wide range of plant and animal species.

The US introduces new policies to reduce the emission of tiny particulates in recognition of the harmful effects they pose to human health.

The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal meets in Geneva, and decides to apply the terms of the Convention to ship dismantling.

The second session of the Preparatory Committee for the Development of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) takes place in Nairobi. PrepCom2 decides that the SAICM will consist of an overarching policy strategy for international chemicals management, a global plan of action, and a high-level declaration.



The IUCN 3rd World Conservation Congress, held in Bangkok, Thailand, calls for a moratorium on the further release of genetically modified organisms, and establishes the World Conservation Learning Network to build capacity of conservation and development professionals.

First Heads of State Summit on the International Conference on the Great Lakes region of Africa is held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Launch of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report by the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee. The assessment finds that the Arctic is warming much more rapidly than previously known, at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the globe.

Launch of the Arctic Council’s Arctic Human Development Report, the first comprehensive assessment of human conditions in the entire circumpolar region.

The Russian Federation deposits its instrument of ratification for the Kyoto Protocol.

In Prague, Czech Republic, the 16th Meeting of Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer fails to conclude discussions on methyl bromide and decides for the second time in its history to hold an additional ‘extraordinary’ MOP.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meets in New Delhi to discuss the scope, content and process for its Fourth Assessment Report.



The United Nations Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change recommends policies and UN changes to improve human security. Among its recommendations are incentives for the further development of renewable energy sources, a phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies, and negotiations on a new long-term strategy for reducing global warming beyond the period covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

The AMAP Assessment Heavy Metals in the Arctic reports increasing mercury levels in marine birds and mammals in the Canadian Arctic and West Greenland. It argues that excess exposure to mercury must be addressed by reducing worldwide emissions.

World observes the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster that took place on 2 December 1984.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the tenth session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change marks the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the UNFCCC. COP-10 adopts the Buenos Aires Programme of Work on Adaptation and Response Measures and opens the way for new types of Clean Development Mechanism projects related to small-scale forestry.

An undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale takes place in the Indian Ocean off the northern coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, generating tsunami waves and causing one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history. The tsunami waves devastate the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, the Maldives and other countries as far as the east coast of Africa killing over 220 000 people and leaving millions homeless.


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