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The Changing Earth: Environmental Trends Since Rio
  How the World has Changed in 20 Years  
  Global Governance – Managing the Needs of Ten Billion People  
Earth Observations – Informing the Conventions
Future Challenges
Global Governance – Managing the Needs of Ten Billion People

Rapid growth of the world’s human population is a recent phenomenon. About 2000 years ago, the population of the world was about 300 million. It took more than 1600 years for the world population to double to 600 million. This rapid growth started in 1950, with reductions in mortality in the less developed regions, resulting in an estimated population of 6.1 billion in the year 2000 – nearly two and a half times the population in 1950. Best estimates suggest that the world’s population reached 7 billion in 2011. Future projections vary significantly, but most agree that we will see an increase in population to 10 billion, sometime between 2050 and the end of the century.

It seems likely, given lifestyle expectations and aspirations of populations in both developed and developing worlds, that the trends we have seen over the past 20 years will continue and accelerate. There will be more humans doing more of the same in relation to resources and their environment.

Widespread public awareness of the ‘environment’ dates back to the 1960s and 1970s, born from concerns such as air and water pollution, use of pesticides and disasters such as the first catastrophic oil spill from a supertanker. Many governments established environment ministries and environmental protection agencies in the 1970s, leading to new consideration of environmental issues and demands for environmental information. Industry too became more environmentally aware, with the realisation of new trends in consumer behaviour and due to the introduction of new legislation and environmental regulations.

Environmental governance is a global endeavour, and requires global solutions beyond the mandate of individual governments. Over the last two decades, the prospect that the global climate could change as a result of human influence has generated widespread concern.

Basic principles of good global environmental decision-making were pioneered at the Earth Summit in 1992, where 172 nations endorsed environmental governance principles when they signed the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, a charter of 27 principles meant to guide the world community toward sustainable development.

The Rio Summit was a true milestone for cooperation on global environmental governance and sustainable development, having also resulted in:

− The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions;

− Agenda 21 on sustainable development;

− The UN Convention on Biological Diversity;

− The Forest Principles, for a global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.

The Summit also took steps which ultimately led to the establishment of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Details of each of these outcomes and other major multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) are provided below.

The Earth Summit influenced all subsequent UN conferences, which have examined the relationship between human rights, population, social development and the need for environmentally sustainable development.

Since 1992, the Rio Earth Summit process and outcomes have explored new ways for both the developed and developing worlds to balance the needs of their populations with the need to maintain a healthy environment. It is this very environment and its natural resources that sustains human life and is the basis for our economies. Maintaining its health, and decoupling depletion of finite resources and the generation of pollution from economic growth, may be the biggest challenge of our generation and will require effective coordination and strong international governance.

spacer The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD in Johannesburg, 2002) reviewed the progress of the previous 10 years and initiated new commitments on expanding access to water and sanitation, energy, improving agricultural yields, managing toxic chemicals, protecting biodiversity and improving ecosystem management – not only by governments, but also by non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations and businesses, who launched over 300 voluntary initiatives.

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Numerous MEAs have been negotiated in the two decades since 1992, signifying the rising political and societal recognition of environmental issues. The chart indicates the total number of signatories to 14 major MEAs, with most countries having signed at least nine of these.

The formulation of such international treaties is not taken lightly, and is indicative of the substantial evidence that has been accumulated and acted upon – regarding common threats to our societies that are of a significant magnitude. These threats have caused governments of the world to take significant and expensive measures to address them. The development of this evidence to stimulate political and societal action is crucial.

Many of the agreements and the design of their reporting frameworks are predicated on the ability to provide the necessary monitoring and environmental data collection. Satellite Earth observations are a fundamental enabling technology for the collection of many of the necessary data required to understand changes in the Earth System and the relationship between human activity and our resources. A large number of the international conventions would simply not be possible without this technology.

The very first CEOS Earth Observation Handbook was developed for the 1992 Earth Summit by the government of the United Kingdom. It presented a far-sighted vision of how satellite Earth observations would play an increasingly important role in the improvement of monitoring and environmental data collection to provide reliable and relevant information for decision-making in support of sustainable development.

Twenty years later, the 2012 print edition (updated for 2014) was able to report on the significant progress that has been made institutionally and technically to guarantee sustained coverage and supply of the most critical measurements and indicators. The following
section 2 provides more information on the indispensible role of satellite Earth observations in support of the multilateral environmental agreements.


Major Multilateral Environmental Agreements

1971. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands, to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognising the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value.

1972. World Heritage Convention provides for the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage places. It came into force in 1975 after being initially ratified by 20 countries.

1973. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

1973/1978. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes and covers pollution by oil, chemicals, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage.

1979. The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution aims to protect humankind and its environment against air pollution. It aims to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution, including long-range trans-boundary air pollution.

1979. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals aims to conserve terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory species throughout their ranges. 1982. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea proposes a comprehensive new legal regime for the sea and oceans and, as far as environmental provisions are concerned, to establish material rules concerning environmental standards as well as enforcement provisions dealing with pollution of the marine environment.

1982. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea proposes a comprehensive new legal regime for the sea and oceans and, as far as environmental provisions are concerned, to establish material rules concerning environmental standards as well as enforcement provisions dealing with pollution of the marine environment.

1983. Cartagena Convention is the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region, which concluded in Cartagena in 1983. It requires the adoption of measures aimed at preventing, reducing and controlling pollution from ships, dumping, sea-bed activities, airborne pollution and pollution from land-based sources and activities.

1987. The Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer sets out specific legal obligations in the form of timetables for the progressive reduction and/or elimination of the production and consumption of certain ozone-depleting substances.

1989. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was developed in response to the 1980s discovery of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad in parts of the developing world.

1992. Agenda 21 and the UN Commission for Sustainable Development is a blueprint for sustainable development into the 21st century. Its basis was agreed during the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992, and signed by 179 Heads of State and Government.

1992. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides a framework for future agreements and action to regulate levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, so as to avoid the occurrence of climate change on a level that would impede sustainable economic development, or compromise initiatives in food production. The Kyoto Protocol (1997) to the UNFCCC commits parties to legally-binding targets to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, adding up to a total reduction of at least 5% from 1990 levels on average during the five-year period 2008-2012.

1992. The Convention on Biological Diversity aims to conserve biological diversity, promote the sustainable use of its components and encourage equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

1996. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification aims to combat desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought through the establishment of long-term integrated strategies.

1998. The Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade
is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to the importation of hazardous chemicals. The convention promotes open exchange of information and calls on exporters of hazardous chemicals to use proper labelling, include directions on safe handling and inform purchasers of any known restrictions or bans.

2001. Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants.


Acknowledgement: This section uses a number of texts and graphics from: UNEP (2011). Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012). Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi.

Further Information
1992 and 2002 Summits:
World Bank & Natural Disasters:
Multilateral Environmental Agreements: