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UNEP report calls for major energy and agriculture reforms

The energy and agricultural sectors need to be dramatically reformed if the world is to become truly sustainable, cautions the UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme) in a new study report, put together by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, an...
UNEP report calls for major energy and agriculture reforms
The energy and agricultural sectors need to be dramatically reformed if the world is to become truly sustainable, cautions the UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme) in a new study report, put together by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, and launched in Brussels, Belgium on 2 June by European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik and UNEP Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper.

The aim of the study was to identify activities that contribute disproportionately to environmental problems. The panel drew on an extensive examination and review of the relevant literature to create a set of science-based priorities for environmental efforts.

'The panel have reviewed all the available science and conclude that two broad areas are currently having a disproportionately high impact on people and the planet's life support systems - these are energy in the form of fossil fuels and agriculture, especially the raising of livestock for meat and dairy products,' said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

According to the report, agricultural production accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption and 38% of total land use. It is a major driver of many environmental problems including habitat loss, climate change and pollution. Meanwhile, the use of fossil fuels is also highlighted as a leading cause of many environmental problems, most notably climate change and other emissions-related impacts.

'The impacts related to these activities are unlikely to be reduced, but rather enhanced, in a business-as-usual scenario for the future,' the report warns.

The report challenges the view that greater wealth results in environmental improvements. 'In the case of CO2 [carbon dioxide], a doubling of wealth leads typically to an increase of environmental pressure by 60% to 80% and in emerging economies this is sometimes even higher,' explained the panel's co-chair, Ernst von Weizsaecker.

'In the case of food, rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products - livestock now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides linked with that crop production in the first place,' he added

The panel points out that households are ultimately responsible for many environmental impacts. 'In most countries, household consumption determines 60% or more of the lifecycle impacts of final consumption,' the report states. 'Dramatic improvements' are therefore needed in household patterns of energy use, for example through heating and cooling systems, gadgets and appliances and the way people travel. On the issue of food, the report recommends a major shift from animal proteins towards more vegetable-based foods.

'Sustainable development starts by putting emphasis on those efforts that do the most good in reducing humanity's harm of ecosystems. In that regard, this report is of high relevance for policymakers and businesses,' commented Ms Cropper. 'And for individuals, it reinforces familiar advice: action is needed beyond recycling to installing energy efficient heating and cooling in the house, shifting to a more sustainable diet, and use public transport where available.'

Commenting on the report, Commissioner Potocnik said: 'This report drives home the message that there is no time like the present for a switch to a resource-efficient economy. It will be a titanic task, but one that is essential for our future prosperity and quality of life.

'In Europe, it will require effective dialogue with our Member States, where many of the most important decisions have to be made, especially in areas such as tax reform. And we will never succeed without the business community on board, where, despite a number of excellent examples of leadership, there are still too many who have yet to understand the urgency of the need for change.'

Source: UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics

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