Global Environment Alert Service Briefs

Global Environment Alert Service Briefs

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill:the World's Largest Accidental Offshore Oil Spill

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: the World's Largest Accidental Offshore Oil Spill  
(August 2010)

Small amounts of oil and natural gas seep through and are found near the Earth's surface, but almost all oil and gas is found in deep underground reservoirs on land and in the seabed (on the continental shelf). Offshore oil production accounts for about 30 per cent of the total world oil production. Offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on the continental shelf is carried out in many waters and at large depths. The Alert tackles the 2010 accidental release of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It begins with a review of importance of the Gulf of Mexico as the world's ninth-largest body of water. It also analyses the environmental impacts of the oil spill on the wetland and marine species.

Only Scraps of the South American Atlantic Forest Remain Eastern Paraguay

Only Scraps of the South American Atlantic Forest Remain Eastern Paraguay
(September 2010)

The Atlantic Forest of South America, or the Mata Atlântica as it is known in Brazil where it largely occurs, stretches for over 3,500 km across equatorial, tropical, and subtropical latitudes, and is renowned world-wide for being one of the 35 biodiversity hotspots for conservation prioritization. The Alert considers the loss of Paraguay’s subtropical rain forest to agriculture and cattle grazing. The importance of the forest, especially in terms of both the biodiversity it contains, and its potential to sequester carbon from entering the atmosphere is considered. It also features some of the initiatives in place to reduce deforestation such as the national parks, biological reserves, biological refuges, and national monuments.

Plant Growth Declined Over the Past Decade - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) September 2010

Plant Growth Declined Over the Past Decade
(September 2010)

Plants capture and store solar energy through photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, living plants convert carbon dioxide in the air into sugar molecules they use for food. In the process of making their own food, plants also provide the oxygen we need to breathe. Net primary productivity (NPP) is equal to the difference between the amount of carbon produced through photosynthesis and the amount of energy that is used for respiration. The Alert delves into the data that shows that terrestrial biomass production has decreased even though the decade has been the warmest since records began. The importance of calculating NPP is highlighted. The implications of this reverse effect are also addressed.

Ancient Water is Used to Irrigate a Desert - Murzuq Basin, Libya - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) October 2010

Ancient Water is Used to Irrigate a Desert - Murzuq Basin, Libya
(October 2010)

For a long time, Libya’s supply of water came from underground aquifers or desalination plants on the coast. Water derived from desalination or aquifers near the coast was of poor quality and sometimes undrinkable. This problem also meant that little water was available for irrigating land for agriculture, which is vital in this largely desert country. Different options were considered to address this problem, which included importing water by ships, desalination of seawater, or laying a pipeline from Europe. The Alert discusses the Great Man-Made River (GMMR) of Libya initiative. The importance of using ancient water for drinking water and irrigation is highlighted. The implications of the GMMR transfer scheme on the costs of alternative sources of water is addressed

Satellite Images Record How Wildfires Have Destroyed One Million Hectares of Forests in Western Russia - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) September 2010

Satellite Images Record How Wildfires Have Destroyed One Million Hectares of Forests in Western Russia
(September 2010)

Wildfires are a natural feature of the Earth system, necessary for the functioning of many ecosystems. Interactions between vegetation and climate over extended periods establish a particular pattern of wildfire recurrence in a defined ecosystem, known as its fire regime. Deviations from the prevailing fire regime – the timing, frequency, size, and intensity of wildfires – can drive significant ecological changes in both fire-dependent ecosystems that need fires to thrive and fire-sensitive ecosystems where fires bring more negative than positive effects. The Alert focuses on the record forest fires in Western Russia that resulted from the severe heat and drought episode in 2010.  The importance of forest ecosystems and Russia's contribution to the world’s wheat harvests is highlighted. The impact of the freeze on exporting grain with likely implications for food security in some regions is also addressed.

Global Mangrove Extent Much Smaller than Previously Estimated

Global Mangrove Extent Much Smaller than Previously Estimated
(October 2010)

Mangroves are coastal ecosystems that cover a small portion of the total ocean area but collectively are widely distributed on every continent except Antarctica. The Alert focuses on the results of the 2010 analysis of the most comprehensive and globally consistent worldwide mangrove database.  It explains the study findings which indicated that the global mangrove extent is much smaller than was previously estimated. The Alert also reviews the importance of mangroves in stabilizing shorelines, provision of ecosystem services, and their role in carbon storage by keeping it out of the atmosphere. The implications of the information generated by these studies and how this helps better understand the role of mangrove forests is also provided.

Carp Aquaculture Overwhelms Lake Kolleru Andhra Pradesh, India - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) - 2011

Carp Aquaculture Overwhelms Lake Kolleru Andhra Pradesh, India
(October 2010)

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic plants and animals in oceans and inland waters. Carp is a large fish that lives in lakes and rivers and can be eaten. The Alert reviews a unique, semi-intensive system described as "Kolleru carp culture" that is practiced at Lake Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary, a Ramsar-designated wetland in Andhra Pradesh, India. The Alert shows that rapidly expanding aquaculture surrounding this Ramsar Wetland, has encroached into the wildlife sanctuary, covering 40 per cent of the lake as of 2004. Government efforts have successfully reduced encroachment, but illegal ponds and water quality issues remain significant threats.

Pakistan's Flood of the Century is a Global Disaster - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) November 2010

Pakistan's Flood of the Century is a Global Disaster
(November 2010)

Floods are a natural and recurring event that are only a problem when man competes with rivers for the use of the high-water channels of rivers or flood plains. The Alert reviews the massive 2010-11 Pakistan floods. It analyses the environmental impacts of this natural disaster and addresses the findings and implications of the devastating floods. The Alert also notes a lesson learned from the disaster. It shows that although such events are rare and unpredictable, there is need for renewed and up-scaled disaster preparedness, especially considering the potential impacts of climate change on flooding patterns.

Greening Cement Production has a Big Role to Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greening Cement Production has a Big Role to Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(November 2010)

Cement is the largest manufactured product on Earth by mass. Combined with water and mineral aggregates it forms cement-based materials (e.g., concrete), the second most used substance in the world after water. The Alert expounds on the environmental impacts of the expanding cement production in terms of its large ecological footprint. Emerging technologies that reduce the environmental impact of cement production are reviewed. The Alert also shows that more policy and market incentives to support research and development of supplementary cementing materials and carbon capture and storage in concrete are needed.

Amazonian Deforestation Slowing but May Already be at a Tipping Point Mato Grosso, Brazil - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) 2011

Amazonian Deforestation Slowing but May Already be at a Tipping Point Mato Grosso, Brazil
(December 2010)

Forests like the Amazon are gigantic reservoirs of biodiversity. They are also key for the regulation of water availability at regional levels. For people living inside these ecosystems, forests are a source of income, food, medicine. The Alert features the environmental impacts and causes of the deforestation of the Amazon that begun in the 1950s and 1960s. The Alert also shows that based on recent research findings, places like Mato Grosso, a province of Brazil, may be reaching a tipping point at which forest loss will cause precipitation and soil-fertility to decline to the point that secondary forests would not be able to regenerate.

Huge Iceberg Breaks off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) December 2010

Huge Iceberg Breaks off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier
(December 2010)

Glaciers are slow moving masses of ice which have accumulated either on mountains or in polar regions. They are found where warm, moist air or warm water meets cold air or water. They move, influenced by the force of gravity and the pressure of the ice, above the underlying slush layers and slide downhill, eventually melting at lower levels to form rivers or reaching sea-level, where they form ice shelves or fall into the water as icebergs. When a glacier enters the sea, new icebergs form as pieces break off, or calve, from the glacier. The Alert focuses on the environmental impacts of the calving or breaking off the Greenland’s Petermann Glacier. It shows that should the entire Greenland ice sheet melt, which would take several centuries at current and predicted rates of global warming, sea-level would rise about seven metres.

Sea-level Rise in the Indian Ocean Differs by Region and Low-lying Pacific Reef Islands can Grow or Shrink in Size Depending on Conditions -UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) December 2010

Sea-level Rise in the Indian Ocean Differs by Region and Low-lying Pacific Reef Islands can Grow or Shrink in Size Depending on Conditions
(December 2010)

Sea-level rises are a possible consequence of global warming. As the amount of free water in the oceans increases, and as the water becomes warmer, global warming will increase. In addition, according to theory, the heating at the poles may reduce the amount of water trapped in glaciers and ice caps. The Alert highlights sea-level rise in the Indian Ocean and shows that it differs by region and that low-lying Pacific reef islands can grow or shrink in size depending on conditions. It also shows that island nations will need to take note of their own type and rate of change when considering how to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.

Largest Fire in Israel's History Consistent with Climate Change Predictions - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) January 2011

Largest Fire in Israel's History Consistent with Climate Change Predictions
(January 2011)

Fires, whether of human or natural origin, have profound effects on land cover, land use, production, local economies, global trace gas emissions, and health. Uncontrolled wildfires can have an immense impact on the human population and the environment. The Alert identifies the environmental impacts of the forest fire that occurred around Mt. Carmel in Israel, December 2010. The Alert also shows that the fire was preceded by drought and higher than normal temperatures and is consistent with the types of events expected under climate change scenarios.

Green Economy Vulnerable to Rare Earth Minerals Shortages

Green Economy Vulnerable to Rare Earth Minerals Shortages
(January 2011)

Rare earth elements (REE) include the 17 elements on the periodic table of chemical elements. Very advanced processes are required to separate the metals from each other. Industrial demand for these elements is small in terms of volume, but they are essential for a wide and growing array of green technology and security uses. The Alert illuminates the shortages of REEs used in renewable and energy-efficient technologies as an emerging issue that may well affect the development of clean energy technologies and the growth of Green Economy.

Athabasca Oil Sands, Require Massive Investments and Energy and Produce Massive Amounts of Oil and CO2 — Alberta, Canada - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) January 2011

Athabasca Oil Sands, Require Massive Investments and Energy and Produce Massive Amounts of Oil and CO2 - Alberta, Canada
(January 2011)

The Athabasca oil sands region of Alberta, Canada forms the second-largest deposit of recoverable oil in the world after Saudi Arabia. The Alert explores the environmental impacts of oil sands mines in terms of the growing emissions of CO2, SO2, and other atmospheric pollutants. In addition, waste-water disposal from the production process goes into large tailing ponds and poses a threat to groundwater and surface water quality, wildlife, and soils if leakage occurs. The Alert also shows that rising oil prices and increasing interest in finding energy sources closer to home for the world's largest oil consumer, the United States, have led to enormous investments in the Athabasca Oil Sands.

Nine of the Ten Hottest Years on Record All in the Last Decade - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) April 2011

Nine of the Ten Hottest Years on Record All in the Last Decade
(April 2011)

The Earth has an inhabitable climate because it has an atmosphere of greenhouse gases that trap energy from the Sun’s rays, raising the temperature by about 32C. Four of the world's leading climate research centres agree that the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998. The Alert inspects these data and findings for 2010, and it shows that they add weight to the common conclusion that the clear, long-term trend is one of global warming. The Alert concludes that, if solid science is to be the basis for sound policy, it is imperative that policy makers and the public understand that science. While the complexity of climate science makes responsible simplification for a non-specialist audience challenging, there is a clear and pressing need to meet that challenge.

Geoengineering to Combat Global Warming

Geoengineering to Combat Global Warming
(May 2011)

As average temperatures continue to climb because of climate change, some scientists are proposing quick fixes to buy time. Geoengineering, also referred to as climate engineering, is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth's climatic system, with the aim of reducing global warming. The Alert investigates the environmental impacts of Geoengineering. The Alert shows that scientists need to consider the environmental risks of geoengineering, and the public and decision makers need to participate in discussions about the ethical, social, and geopolitical constraints of these new technologies.

One Small Planet, Seven Billion People by Year's End and 10.1 Billion by Century's End - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) June 2011

One Small Planet, Seven Billion People by Year's End and 10.1 Billion by Century's End
(June 2011)

Population growth rate is the increase in the total number of inhabitants of a country, city, district, or area. There are very close and intricate interrelationships between population, resources, environment, and development. Changes in one affect the others, positively or adversely. Some of these changes are immediately visible, others may take a long time before they can be discerned. The Alert investigates the environmental impacts of a growing world population especially in urban areas. The Alert also shows that in a world of economic globalization and increasing international interdependence, no country will be isolated from the consequences.

The Rush for Land and Its Potential Environmental Consequence - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) July 2011

The Rush for Land and Its Potential Environmental Consequence
(July 2011)

As the global population grows and climate pressures increase, we will have to start producing our food with greater efficiency and resilience, and we must encourage people everywhere to adopt diets that are more sustainable. The Alert probes the environmental impacts of the rush for land for farming. The Alert shows that even though it is projected that more than 80 per cent of future arable land expansion would take place in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, both climate change and population growth will cause reductions in arable land in the same regions by the end of the 21st century.  The Alert also shows that protected areas should be demarcated and areas unsuitable for agricultural expansion monitored against encroachment. In addition, the impacts of water use on downstream users, whether those users are immediately downstream, or in other countries should be assessed as a matter of priority.

The Decommissioning of Nuclear Reactors and Related Environmental Consequences - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) August 2011

The Decommissioning of Nuclear Reactors and Related Environmental Consequences
(August 2011)

Nuclear fuel is the fuel that is used in a nuclear reactor to sustain a nuclear chain reaction. There are highly radioactive materials produced as a by-product of reactions that occur within nuclear reactors. Many of the world's nuclear reactors are aging toward the end of their designed operational lifespan. The Alert reveals the far-reaching environmental impacts of decommissioning or dismantling of nuclear reactors. The Alert shows that debate on this issue has intensified since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. The Alert also shows the importance of using the Joint Convention on the Safety of the Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

Drought, Fire and Deforestation in the Amazon: Feedbacks, Uncertainty and the Precautionary Approach

Drought, Fire, and Deforestation in the Amazon: Feedback, Uncertainty and the Precautionary Approach
(October 2011)

The Amazon is widely considered to be one of the world's most important natural areas and a high priority for conservation. Its importance to the global carbon cycle makes understanding its response to drought essential to modelling of the planet's future. The Alert reviews the feedbacks, uncertainty and the precautionary approach that arise because of the droughts, fires, and deforestation in the Amazon. The Alert describes several feedback relationships linking climate, ecosystems, and human activities.  It shows the uncertainty of future human influence on these interactions of natural systems. The Alert also explains one of the principles from the UN Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, that addresses the issue of balancing scientific uncertainty against taking action.

Food Security in the Horn of Africa: The Implications of a Drier, Hotter and More Crowded Future

Food Security in the Horn of Africa: The Implications of a Drier, Hotter and More Crowded Future
(November 2011)

Food security exists when all people, always, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Nearly 44 per cent of the population in the Horn of Africa is already subject to extreme food shortages. The Alert scrutinizes the issues around what will happen if the population in the Horn of Africa continues to grow, and climate change exacerbates the harsh conditions. The Alert also shows that the current interaction between vulnerable communities, climate change, ecosystem degradation, population growth, land fragmentation and limited investment in agriculture is potentially explosive, costly, and deadly.

Oil palm plantations: threats and opportunities for tropical ecosystems

Oil palm plantations: threats and opportunities for tropical ecosystems
(December 2011)

Oil palm is an international commodity used for food, household, and industrial purposes and is cultivated on approximately 15 million ha worldwide. As global demand for palm oil is expected to double by 2020, researchers have broadly studied the varying environmental threats arising from increased oil palm production. The Alert surveys the threats and opportunities of oil palm plantations.

A Glass Half Empty: Regions at Risk Due to Groundwater Depletion - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) January 2012

A Glass Half Empty: Regions at Risk Due to Groundwater Depletion
(January 2012)

Fresh water, though it makes up a relatively small portion of the world’s global water supplies, packs an outsize punch in terms of its importance for human and ecosystem health. Most of it, however, is not easily accessible: much of it is locked up in glaciers and snow and only 1.2 per cent is found in water bodies, including wetlands. The rest – around 30 per cent – is stored underground in water-holding rock or clay chambers called aquifers. Groundwater accounts for around 99 per cent of all liquid freshwater on Earth. The Alert spotlights the implications of groundwater overexploitation and also discusses some recommendations or tools that can be employed in furthering sustainable use of groundwater, such as institutional reforms, multi-national arrangements, and a metered system.

The Drying of Iran's Lake Urmia and its Environmental Consequences - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) February 2012

The Drying of Iran's Lake Urmia and its Environmental Consequences
(February 2012)

Lake Urmia, located in a mountainous region between the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan in north-western Iran is a hypersaline lake. The Alert talks about the drying of Lake Urmia and its environmental consequences. It warns that continued decline will lead to increased salinity, collapse of the lake’s food chain and ecosystem, loss of wetland habitat, wind-blown “salt-storms,” and local climatic alteration, resulting in serious negative impacts on local agriculture, livelihoods, and regional health. The Alert outlines two possible approaches to addressing the lake’s decline, namely: adjusting water allocation within the basin to allow an adequate environmental flow for sustaining Lake Urmia; and/or importing water from outside the basin to increase water levels and dilute salinity concentrations within the lake. A comprehensive integrated water management plan is recommended to take all elements of the basin’s water budget into account, balancing demands for irrigation, ecosystem preservation, social and human impact, and water quality, as well as operating within the national and regional political realities.

The Need for Numbers - Goals, Targets and Indicators for the Environment - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) March 2012

The Need for Numbers - Goals, Targets and Indicators for the Environment
(March 2012)

Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It is a visionary plan that calls for integration of economic development, social equity, and environmental protection. It is development that puts people at the centre and that is just, equitable and inclusive. The Alert unveils the need to put "sustainable development" into practice by setting time bound, measurable goals and targets and monitor progress towards achieving them. The Alert reviews the broad development goals as well as specific targets for environmental improvement that have been proposed since 1987. The strengths and weaknesses of these efforts are addressed. The Alert also lists critical themes and issues that need to be prioritized to move the sustainable development agenda forward.

The end to cheap oil: a threat to food security and an incentive to reduce fossil fuels in agriculture

The end to cheap oil: a threat to food security and an incentive to reduce fossil fuels in agriculture
(April 2012)

Fossil fuels are essential for modern, mechanized agricultural production systems. Petroleum products are used directly to power tractors, machinery, and irrigation, and to transport, transform and package agricultural products. They are also used indirectly to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides and prepare seeds. Thus, food production is energy intensive. The Alert checks out the consequences of a potential increase in the price of oil as conventional oil production decreases. The Alert also describes the factors that influence fossil fuel use in agriculture. The Alert concludes by discussing the options for reducing food system's dependence on fossil fuels for the future.

Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment--From Rio to Rio +20 (1992-2012) - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) May 2012

Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment--From Rio to Rio +20 (1992-2012)
(May 2012)

The Alert considers what has occurred since the Earth Summit of 1992. It underlines how in just twenty years, the world has changed more than most of us could ever have imagined geopolitically, economically, socially, and environmentally. Very few individuals outside academic and research communities envisaged the rapid pace of change or foresaw developments such as the phenomenal growth in information and communication technologies, ever-accelerating globalisation, private sector investments across the world and the rapid economic rise of several "developing" countries. Many rapid changes have also taken place in our environment, from the accumulating evidence of climate change and its very visible impacts on our planet, to biodiversity loss and species extinctions, further degradation of land surfaces and the deteriorating quality of oceans. Certainly, there have been some improvements in the environmental realm, such as the significant reduction in ozone depleting chemicals and the emergence of renewable energy sources, for which new investments totalled more than $200 thousand million in 2010. But in too many areas, the environmental "dials" continue to head into the red.

One Planet, How Many People? A Review of Earth’s Carrying Capacity: A discussion paper for the year of RIO+20 - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) June 2012

One Planet, How Many People? A Review of Earth’s Carrying Capacity: A discussion paper for the year of RIO+20
(June 2012)

So many people now inhabit the planet with so much impact that scientists have coined a new word to describe our time, the Athropocene Epoch. The Alert delves into the environmental impacts of earth's carrying capacity. After reviewing tools that have been proposed to estimate a static upper limit of human population, it shows the need to use models that capture the key dynamics of the Earth system which can serve as a map for choices that will impact our collective future. It also reviews the Planetary Boundaries framework, that seeks to define safe limits for human impact on key Earth System processes that will keep us from crossing the thresholds of tipping points and to help us maintain the overall resilience of the Earth System.

A State of the Art Analysis and Future Directions - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) July 2012

A State-of-the-Art Analysis and Future Directions
(July 2012)

A global multi-hazard early warning system is needed to inform us of pending threats. The Alert highlights the state-of-the-art assessment of existing monitoring/early warning systems (EWS) organized according to type of environmental threats, including air quality, wildland fires, nuclear and chemical accidents, geological hazards (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides), hydro-meteorological hazards (desertification, droughts, floods, impacts of climate variability, severe weather, storms, and tropical cyclones), epidemics and food insecurity. It identifies current gaps and needs with the goal of laying out guidelines for developing a global multi-hazard early warning system.

Africa Without Glaciers - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) August 2012

Africa Without Glaciers
(August 2012)

Glaciers are a critical component of the earth' system, and the current accelerated melting and retreat of glaciers have severe impacts on the environment and human well-being, including vegetation patterns, economic livelihoods, natural disasters, sea level fluctuations and the water and energy supply. The Alert emphasizes the environmental impacts of retreating glaciers in Africa. Policies will need to address how to adapt to these impacts, at the same time as they promote economic development without increasing fossil fuel dependency and using inefficient technologies.

Measuring Glacier Change in the Himalaya

Measuring Glacier Change in the Himalaya
(September 2012)

The Alert enhances our understanding of the serious lack of reliable and consistent data on the state of Himalayan glaciers. As a result, the contribution of glacial melt to the Himalayan River basins remains uncertain. This is of grave importance because declining water availability could threaten the food security of more than 70 million people. There is thus an urgent need to improve cross boundary scientific collaboration and monitoring of glaciers to bridge the knowledge gap and allow policy options to be based on appropriate scientific evidence.

Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Due to Meat Production - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) October 2012

Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Due to Meat Production
(October 2012)

Meat consumption has been listed as an unmanageable threat to global warming. It is estimated that each year livestock production emits greenhouse gases that equal to global warming effects of 7 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide, tentatively same as that of the transport industry. Two-fifths of this emission, mostly methane, is produced during the digestive process. The Alert examines both intensive (industrial) and non-intensive (traditional) forms of meat production and shows that they result in the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs), contributing to climate change.  As meat supply and consumption increase around the world, more sustainable food systems must be encouraged.

Gas Fracking: Can we Safely Squeeze the Rocks?

Gas Fracking: Can we Safely Squeeze the Rocks?
(November 2012)

The Alert explores hydraulic fracturing, a gas extraction technique also known as gas fracking. It shows that it presents considerable environmental and health challenges. According to the Alert, the question of whether and how to allow fracking merits careful review of laws, regulations, and impacts on environment and health. The Alert poses policy considerations including mandating disclosure of fracking products; banning harmful chemicals; developing monitoring and enforcement procedures; adhering to best practices; requiring companies to fund restoration and environmental impact mitigation; and transitioning from carbon-based energy sources, using unconventional gas (UG) related profits to invest in research and development. It concludes that fracking may have environmental impacts even if done properly, and that existing regulations are insufficient. The Alert concedes that UG is likely to grow with energy demands but remains a stop-gap measure in a transition to a low-carbon future.

Measuring progress - environmental goals and gaps

Measuring progress - environmental goals and gaps
(December 2012)

Over the last few decades, a great number of environmental goals and objectives have been adopted and a few success stories can be told. However, despite the growing body of norms and rules, the overall global environmental situation continues to deteriorate.  The international community, having made very uneven progress towards the stated goals, needs to redefine the approach to improve the state of the environment and foster sustainable development. The Alert expounds on the current approach to measure progress. It shows that the international community should consider establishing clear and measurable targets covering a broader range of environmental challenges, particularly those currently being addressed with least success, those with more irreversible and imminent effects on human livelihoods, and overall, those with greatest relevance to the achievement of sustainable development. Ongoing and future priorities include promoting, where possible, the use of common standards for data collection and analysis, increased data sharing, consistent time series of environmental observations, capacity building to strengthen environment statistics and other data in a wider range of countries and harnessing new technologies to communicate environmental information effectively to policy makers and the public.

Emerging Environmental Issues 2013: A Compilation of Global Environmental Alert Service Bulletins (GEAS)

Emerging Environmental Issues 2013: A Compilation of Global Environmental Alert Service Bulletins (GEAS)
(January 2013)

The 36th edition of GEAS is a compilation of the environmental issues covered in 2012.

Transnational Environmental Crime - a common crime in need of better enforcement

Transnational Environmental Crime - a common crime in need of better enforcement
(January 2012)

UNEP’s monthly Global Environmental Alert (GEAS) bulletins ‘take the pulse of the planet’ and widely distribute the findings about environmental events and trends to the public. The science about the state of the planet’s health is presented in highly readable language, accompanied by clear graphics and stunning satellite imagery. The bulletins use sound scientific investigation to recognize important environmental trends and connect them to policy by uncovering the links to past human activity and the potential for future action. The Alert is a compilation of the environmental issues covered in 2012, allowing readers to note and assess significant environmental events that took place that year.

Forecasting and early warning of dust storms

Forecasting and early warning of dust storms
(February 2013)

Sand and dust storms are a global environmental problem that affects the health and livelihoods of millions of people across the world. Fine particles of dust can travel thousands of miles on the back of these storms, which may also carry pathogens and harmful substances, causing acute and chronic respiratory problems. Dust storms also increase desertification, drought and soil salinity while reducing water supplies and impeding renewable energy sources. Dust storms can also be triggered and exacerbated by climate change, drought, land degradation and un-sustainable management of land and water resources. The Alert highlights the need to have early detection and warning of dust storms in conjunction with effective and widespread information broadcasts, for the prevention and mitigation of future risks and impacts.

The impact of corruption on climate change: threatening emissions trading mechanisms?

The impact of corruption on climate change: threatening emissions trading mechanisms?
(March 2013)

Emissions trading refers to one of the three Kyoto mechanisms, by which an Annex I Party may transfer Kyoto Protocol units to, or acquire units from, another Annex I Party. An Annex I Party must meet specific eligibility requirements to participate in emissions trading. Annex I Parties include the 24 original Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members, the European Union, and 14 countries with economies in transition. The Alert identifies recent discussions about the impact of corruption on environmental governance, with a focus on emissions trading. It reviews new definitions and the latest corruption assessment methodologies to emphasise the broader challenges faced by Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trading mechanisms and climate finance.

Water hyacinth-can its aggressive invasion be controlled?

Water hyacinth-can its aggressive invasion be controlled?
(April 2013)

The spread of invasive alien species is neither easy to manage nor easy to reverse, threatening not only biodiversity but also economic development and human wellbeing. Native to the Amazon Basin in South America water hyacinth has emerged as a major weed in more than 50 countries in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world with profuse and permanent impacts. Worryingly, climate change may allow the spread of water hyacinth to higher latitudes. Intensified monitoring, mitigation and management measures are needed to keep water hyacinth at unproblematic levels. The Alert illuminates the environmental impacts of the aggressive invasion of the water hyacinth. It also shows that water hyacinth infestation is a symptom of broader watershed management and pollution problems. It calls for a concise national and transboundary water hyacinth policy designating the plant as noxious weed to aquatic systems.

A new eye in the sky: Eco-drones

A new eye in the sky: Eco-drones
(May 2013)

A drone is generally thought of as a military weapon or surveillance tool. Commonly referred to as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), unmanned aerial system (UAS) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), a drone can also provide a low-cost and low-impact solution to environmental managers working in a variety of ecosystems. Drones used for these purposes are referred to as eco-drones or conservation drones. Their agility and quality imaging abilities make them advantageous as a mapping tool for environmental monitoring, but there are still several challenges and concerns to be surmounted. The Alert investigates the environmental impacts of eco-drones and some of the policy considerations that are needed.

Balancing economic development and protecting the cradle of mankind

Balancing economic development and protecting the cradle of mankind
(June 2013)

Several transboundary water agreements exist in Africa. However, many of these agreements are limited to larger basins such as the Nile, Niger, Senegal, or Volta. There are very few international river basin agreements or cooperative arrangements in the small transboundary basins where development activities such as dam building and/or irrigation development are currently taking place. Such changes affect water redistribution and could pose, on one hand, a potential threat for conflict, on the other hand, could provide opportunities for cooperation. The Alert inspects the environmental impacts of the Omo-Turkana transboundary waters. It also shows the need to have cooperation on the Omo-Turkana transboundary water issues.

From Hotspots to Hopespots: Connecting local changes to global audiences

From Hotspots to Hopespots: Connecting local changes to global audiences
(July 2013)

As changes to ecosystems and the environment continue to occur in response to growing population pressure and natural processes, ways to measure and observe these changes on a regular basis will become increasingly important. Satellite imagery offers an important way to provide evidence of such changes and connect local changes to wider audiences. The Alert investigates the new environmental issues identified because of measuring and observing changes in the environment.

Mangrove forest cover fading fast

Mangrove forest cover fading fast
(August 2013)

The uniquely adapted mangrove forests on the marine-terrestrial interface preserve coastline integrity by buffering wave energy from marine processes. The ecosystem services they provide and their support for coastal livelihoods worldwide are worth at least US $1.6 billion a year. Despite their global importance, mangroves are being lost rapidly and action is urgently needed to protect them. The Alert investigates the environmental impacts of a shrinking mangrove forest cover.

Where will the water go? Impacts of accelerated glacier melt in the Tropical Andes

Where will the water go? Impacts of accelerated glacier melt in the Tropical Andes
(September 2013)

Slow moving masses of ice which have accumulated either on mountains or in polar regions. They are found where warm, moist air or warm water meets cold air or water. They move, influenced by the force of gravity and the pressure of the ice, above the underlying slush layers and slide downhill, eventually melting at lower levels to form rivers or reaching sea-level, where they form ice shelves or fall into the water as icebergs. More than 99% of the world's tropical glaciers are in the Andes Mountains in South America, of which 71% are in Peru, concentrated on the Cordilera Blanca, and 20% in Bolivia. The Alert probes the impacts of the reported accelerated loss of tropical glaciers to water supplies in Peru as well as broader impacts to the hydrologic cycle, future water supplies and ecosystem status.

Municipal solid waste: Is it garbage or gold?

Municipal solid waste: Is it garbage or gold?
(October 2013)

Waste management has become an issue of growing global concern as urban populations continue to increase and consumption patterns change. The health and environmental implications associated with garbage disposal are mounting in urgency, particularly in developing countries. However, the growth of the solid-waste market, increasing resource scarcity and the availability of new technologies are offering opportunities for turning waste into a resource. In addition, unlike the mainly organic waste of the past, much of the modern waste stream may take many years to break down. Some components of the waste may be harmful. The Alert reveals the environmental impacts of municipal solid waste and discusses some policy options.

Cyclone Phailin in India: Early warning and timely actions saved lives

Cyclone Phailin in India: Early warning and timely actions saved lives
(November 2013)

UNEP works to address the environmental causes and impacts of disasters, as well as promotes sound environmental management and nature-based solutions for reducing disaster risks, with a focus on disaster prevention. The Alert reviews the benefits of having effective early warning systems as demonstrated during Cyclone Phailin. Effective disaster planning, preparation and dissemination of early warning information led to a minimal death toll in the wake of the strongest cyclone to hit India in 14 years. Continued early warning efforts could have similar positive results in the future, and when accompanied by good communication and adequate preparation, impacts of disasters could be mitigated or even prevented. The Alert also focusses on the lessons learned from Cyclone Phailin and how they can be applied to other disasters such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan.

Saving the Great Migrations: declining wildebeest in East Africa?

Saving the Great Migrations: declining wildebeest in East Africa?
(December 2013)

Animal migration is the seasonal and round-trip movement of animals between discrete areas. A few migrations are well known, such as the iconic wildebeest migrations of East Africa. These migrations are an important ecological phenomenon and massive tourist attraction. The Alert scrutinizes the trend that shows a drastic decline in migrations across the region. Their dispersal areas and migratory corridors are being lost due to high human population densities, increasing urbanisation, expanding agriculture and fences. Their loss would contribute to biodiversity decline and jeopardize tourism and other ecosystem services. Urgent efforts need to be made to protect wildebeest migratory corridors and dispersal areas to ensure these great migrations for the future.

The future of the Aral Sea lies in transboundary co-operation

The future of the Aral Sea lies in transboundary co-operation
(January 2014)

The name "Aral Sea" comes from the word "aral" meaning island. The sea's name reflects the fact that it is a vast basin that lies as an island among waterless deserts. The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth largest inland sea. Irrigation and water diversion has led to a dramatic shrinking of the lake beginning in the 1960s and continuing today. The sea is now a quarter of the size it was 50 years ago. The Alert surveys the recent restorative actions that reveal a rebound of the fishing industry in what is now the North Aral Sea, possibly indicating a turn for the better, but it has come at the expense of the South Aral Sea.  Although the water levels of the Aral Sea may never return to pre-1960s levels, transboundary cooperation on the implementation and compliance of conservation policies and activities provides some hope for the survival of the Aral Sea, helping secure livelihoods of those within its reaches.

Emissions and Adaptation Gaps: Can we bridge the cracks in climate policy?

Emissions and Adaptation Gaps: Can we bridge the cracks in climate policy?
(February 2014)

The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) World Environment Situation Room shows a sharp increase in CO2 concentrations of more than 100 ppm since March 1958. Since then, seasonally corrected monthly mean concentrations of CO2 have continued to rise. The emissions gap — the difference between the emissions reductions pledged by parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the reductions needed to stay within two degrees Celsius (2°C) warming — is increasing. With it, the adaptation gap — the difference between the level of funding and the capacities needed for adaptation and the amount committed to the task — is also increasing. The Alert spotlights the fact that to bridge these gaps, it is critical to fill holes in funding, knowledge, technology, capacity, and trust.

Sand, rarer than one thinks

Sand, rarer than one thinks
(March 2014)

Sand and gravels are the hidden foundation to our society, formed by erosive processes over thousands of years, and represent the largest volume of solid material extracted globally. Sand plays a strategic role in delivering ecosystem services, vital infrastructure for economic development, providing livelihoods within communities and maintaining biodiversity. However, its extraction, sourcing, use, and management are largely ungoverned in many regions of the world, leading to numerous environmental and social consequences that have been largely overlooked. Sand demand has tripled over the last two decades and is expected to keep growing due to growing populations, shifting consumption patterns, urbanization, leading to major social and environmental consequences. The Alert talks about the reasons why an environmental assessment on sand extraction is very difficult, contributing to the lack of awareness about this issue. It proposes a method of estimating the global extraction amount, using an indirect value, the total production of cement for concrete (concrete is made with cement, water, sand, and gravel).

Loss and Damage: When Adaptation is not Enough - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) April 2014

Loss and Damage: When Adaptation is not Enough
(April 2014)

Climate change is landing blow after blow upon humanity and the planet and reducing carbon emissions is no longer enough to halt the impacts. Many countries are realizing it's time to start adapting to a warming world. Ecosystem-based adaptation is a strategy for adapting to climate change that harnesses nature-based solutions and ecosystem services. The Alert unveils the mounting scientific evidence that suggests that, despite global mitigation and adaptation efforts, residual losses and damages from climate change are inevitable. More information is needed on future climate change impacts and on where the limits of adaptation lie. This will allow the creation of policies that help avoid negative impacts, where possible, and address residual loss and damage when it occurs.

Wealth in the Oceans: Deep sea mining on the horizon?

Wealth in the Oceans: Deep sea mining on the horizon?
(May 2014)

The deep ocean, the largest biome on Earth at over 1 000 metres below the surface of the ocean, contains many of the most pristine ecosystems on our planet and plays a crucial role in regulating the climate. It holds vast quantities of untapped energy resources, precious metals, and minerals. Advancements in technology have enabled greater access to these treasures.  Plans to mine this unique and complex area of our planet would create irreversible ecosystem and habitat loss, as well as permanently destroy invaluable carbon storage. The Alert checks out the need to ensure that the policies guiding mineral extraction from the deep seas are rooted into adaptive management, allowing for the integration of new scientific information alongside advances in technology. Governance mechanisms for international waters and the seabed need to be strengthened. The precautionary approach should be used to avoid repeating instances of well-known destructive practices associated with conventional mining.

Emerging Technologies: Smarter Ways to Fight Wildlife Crime - UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) June 2014

Emerging Technologies: Smarter Ways to Fight Wildlife Crime
(June 2014)

Broadly speaking, wildlife crime is the illegal exploitation of the world’s wild flora and fauna. There is deep concern about the increasing scale of illegal trade in wildlife and its products, including forest products, including timber, and marine species, and its adverse economic, social, and environmental impacts. It contributes to damage to ecosystems and rural livelihoods, undermines good governance and the rule of law and threatens national security and has a negative impact on sustainable utilization, including ecotourism and wildlife-based tourism. The Alert considers the adoption by conservation and law enforcement communities, of cutting-edge tools and techniques, to keep pace with the "war on wildlife". High-tech equipment can magnify counter-poaching efforts without requiring armies of rangers or risking lives.