Saturday, June 9, 2012

GEO 5 Report on Water, Marine Pollution and Fish Stocks

The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5) was published on June 6, 2012. This United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report indicates there are major issues related to water, marine pollution and fish stocks


Of the 30 environmental goals examined in relation to water, only one goal – that of increasing access to clean drinking water – shows significant progress. But less progress has been made in rural areas, especially in Africa and the Pacific. Despite some improvements, water quality remains the largest cause of human health problems worldwide. At the same time, climate change and further population growth are likely to result in even greater water shortages in many regions.

Water quality in at least parts of most major river systems still fails to meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards. More than 600 million people are expected to lack access to safe drinking water by 2015, while more than 2.5 billion people will lack access to basic sanitation. As water scarcity increases, some regions will be forced to rely more on energy- intensive desalination technologies. By 2030, an estimated US $9-11 billion will be spent annually on additional infrastructure to provide sufficient quantities of water, especially in developing countries.

Curbing water pollution could result in health benefits of more than US $100 million in large OECD economies alone. Nitrate concentrations are projected to increase due to water pollution from fertilizers and inadequate sanitation, resulting in serious threats to human health and aquatic life.

Although freshwater pollution seems to be on the increase, proper monitoring has declined in many regions.
Further deterioration of groundwater supplies has been recorded since 2000, while global water withdrawals have tripled over the past 50 years. Agriculture accounts for 92 per cent of the global water footprint and many global agricultural centres are particularly dependent on groundwater, including northwest India, northeast Pakistan, northeast China and western United States.

Integrated water management and monitoring tools need to be developed and strengthened if the world is to better manage current and future water challenges. At present, about 158 of the 263 international freshwater basins still lack cooperative management frameworks. Other obstacles to better water management include: Insufficient data, the absence of comprehensive monitoring systems and water security indicators to track trends over time.

Marine Pollution

Little or no progress has been achieved in preventing, reducing or controlling pollution of the marine environment. The number of coastal dead zones has increased dramatically in recent years. Out of the 169 coastal dead zones worldwide, only 13 are recovering and 415 coastal areas suffer from eutrophication. Around 80 per cent of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities. Of 12 seas surveyed between 2005 and 2007, the South-East Pacific, North Pacific, East Asian Sea and Caribbean contained the most marine litter. Ratification of the MARPOL convention by 150 countries is resulting in reduced pollution from ships despite gaps in implementation. Governance of marine areas beyond boundaries is weak and fragmented.

Marine protected areas have proven in many cases to be effective conservation tools, with recent surveys showing higher fish populations inside reserves than in surrounding areas and in the same areas before reserves were established.

Fish Stocks

The last two decades witnessed unprecedented deterioration in fish stocks. Though catches more than quadrupled from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s, they have stabilized or diminished since then - despite increased fishing. In 2000, catches could have been 7-36 per cent higher were it not for stock depletion. This translated into economic losses to the value of US $4-36 billion. Commercial fisheries and overfishing are the main threat to stocks. Fish products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council constituted only 7 per cent of global fisheries in 2007.

To access the full report click here.

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