Earth's environment declines as international community veers off target on Millennium Goals

A detailed report looking at progress made on the UN's Millennium Goal paints a disheartening picture for the environment, giving it a bleak 2 out of 10.

Planet on the decline: Earth's environment scored just 2 out of 10 in a recent progress report

Planet on the decline: Earth's environment scored just 2 out of 10 in a recent progress report

The woeful score in the World Economic Forum's annual Global Governance Initiative report shows global backsliding on environmental issues in 2005, down from last year's less than impressive 3 out of 10.

The WEF is an international organisation that falls someone between lobby group and self-appointed watchdog which states that it is committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Its annual GGI report has established itself as reliable independent metre-stick for progress on the Millennium Goals.

The UN-set goals say we should stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system, reverse the loss of biological resources and halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The report says: "The global environmental situation is bad and getting worse, and the score has dropped 10% or one point."

"There was a serious lack of high-level political commitment to global environmental goals, few countries slowed or reduced greenhouse gas emissions, no serious frameworks are in place to ensure the integrity of ecosystems, and hundreds of millions still lack access to clean water and sanitation."

The report did, however, say there were flickers of light perceptible in the gloom and highlighted the UK's focus on climate change both in its EU presidency and role as current leader of the G8.

It also mentioned the goodwill shown in bringing Kyoto into play, despite its limited scope and the fact that many countries were missing their targets and the world's largest polluter, the US, refused to sign up.

The private sector was, perhaps unexpectedly, playing an increasing role in recognising the value of reducing emissions and the majority of large companies had taken steps to lessen their impact.

If protecting ecosystems and resources had been judged alone, said the report, it would have been awarded 0 out 10.

This year has been a disaster for wildlife and natural resources, it continued, with the only mitigating factor the publication of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a landmark study involving over 1,300 scientists from around the world which offered us an audit of our management of the planet, showing us in stark detail the problem if not the cure.

It has been a slightly better year for clean water and sanitation, claims the report, with China and India making significant progress although things remain little changed in other areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

"In 2005 decision makers began confronting the access to water and sanitation with greater resolve," it said.

It urged caution on large scale privatisation of water supplies, however, pointing to a number of troubled projects where lessons could be learned.

There was mixed progress on non-environmental Millennium Goals, with only human rights sharing the burden of actually getting worse.

According to the WEF analysis we live in a safer, better fed and more widely educated world than we did last year, however, with limited progress being made on education, peace and security and poverty and hunger.

Though even here there is still a long way to go, we come closest to meeting the Millennium Goal target on health, which at 5 out of 10 had the highest score of any of the categories.

While the scores were still low across the board, when taken as a package they were nevertheless the highest yet.

Ann Florini, the director of the GGI and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, noted, "Overall, the news is positive, but only marginally. On most of the goals, the world's efforts for 2005 earned slightly higher scores than in previous years - although still no score higher than a five, representing a level of effort about half what was needed.

"And because the scores have for several years fallen far below the level of ten, which would have us on track to meet the goals, the gap between action and aspiration is growing ever larger; more will need to be done in the future to make up for what was not done in the past."

By Sam Bond


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