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Jabbour J.,United Nations Environment Programme Scientific Assessment | Keita-Ouane F.,United Nations Environment Programme Scientific Assessment | Hunsberger C.,International Institute of Social Studies | Sanchez-Rodriguez R.,Colegio de Mexico | And 5 more authors.
Environmental Development | Year: 2012

The number of international environmental institutions, goals and agreements has increased greatly since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. However, the results of this proliferation for environmental protection have been mixed. The upcoming "Rio +20" conference (2012), offers world leaders an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of achieving a sustainability agenda and to revisit their strategies for doing so. To inform this process it is crucial to learn from the ambitions, achievements and shortcomings on goal attainment to date. Drawing on the United Nations Environment Programme's fifth Global Environment Outlook report (GEO-5), this paper presents an evaluation of progress made on globally agreed environmental goals in relation to a series of biophysical trends. The analysis suggests a picture of patchy achievements rather than sustained progress. The most encouraging results have occurred where measurable targets were established on problems with relatively straightforward causes and courses of action. Key obstacles to the achievement of goals include a series of mismatches: between narrow objectives and the need for integrated approaches; between types of problems and types of solutions; between the fragmentation of governance and the need for collective action; between science and policy; between the responsibilities and resources of environmental institutions; and between complex systems and the desire for measurable outcomes. Overcoming these obstacles will require not only learning from past successes and failures but also adapting this knowledge to environmental, political and economic circumstances that have changed considerably over the past 40 years. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.

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