Environment Lagging on Road To Millenium Development Goals

BRASILIA, Brazil, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - Fifteen out of the 24 Latin American and Caribbean nations have met the Millennium Development Goals in reducing malnutrition and hunger, improving access to potable water and gender equality in education.

Yet, they are behind in reducing absolute poverty, universal access to education, and environmental protection, according to a report on progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals released Friday by the United Nations and the Latin American Economic Commission (Cepal).

With regard to the environment, the report calls the situation "worrisome." Latin American countries are reporting the loss of natural vegetation and biodiversity, air pollution and the growth of urban slums.

"Economic growth is fundamental if there is to be progress in social policies," says the executive secretary of Cepal, Alicia Barcea. She explains that many numbers in the report are only averages due to the differences in the countries surveyed. "However, there is no doubt that growth must include improving income distribution."

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Wide swaths of the Brazilian rainforest have been cleared to make way for cattle ranches. (Photo courtesy Rainforest Foundation)
She said improving social conditions involves investing in infrastructure and a certain amount of social cohesion, along with other factors not included in the Millennium Development Goals, such as jobs and political stability.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals were adopted in 2000 by the governments of 191 countries, including Brazil.

The signatories are committed to human development around the world and established eight objectives which are to be accomplished by 2015 - eradicate absolute poverty and hunger; achieve universal education; promote gender equality and freedom for women; reduce infant mortality; improve maternal healthcare; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; protect the environment through sustainable economic activities and establish a world partnership for development.

In September, heads of state and government will meet in New York to debate the reform of the United Nations and the status of the eight Goals.

The report launched Friday highlights good progress in many parts of the developing world towards meeting the Goals by 2015. Still, it confirms that sub-Saharan Africa remains off-track in most if not all areas.

Speaking at a regional launch of a new United Nations report on the Millennium Development Goals, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said, "To fight poverty we need three kinds of capital - financial, human and environmental."

When we damage natural capital we not only undermine our life support systems but the economic basis for current and future generations, he said. "Targeted investments in this natural capital have a high rate of return in terms of development."

"While restoring them to health, after they have been damaged, is a costly and often time-consuming affair, so better to keep them intact than undermining them in the first place," said Toepfer.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the work of 1,300 scientists and experts from 95 countries in which UNEP has played a pivotal role, gives some of the first firm figures on the environment’s economic value and thus its role in meeting the Goals.

"The goods and services delivered by nature including the atmosphere, forests, rivers, wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs are worth trillions of dollars," Toepfer pointed out.

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Healthy intact reefs are valuable, but reefs around the world are threatened by climate change, runoff from agriculture, and other human activities. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment finds that tropical mangroves, coastal ecosystems that are nurseries for fish, natural filters and coastal defences, are worth around US$1,000 a hectare when intact. Cleared for shrimp farms the same area of coast is worth only $200 a hectare.

The Assessment also puts a value on peat bogs and marshlands. It estimates that the Muthurajawela Marsh, a more than 3,000 hectare coastal bog in Sri Lanka, is worth an estimated $5 million a year as a result of services such as local flood control.

Losses as a result of damage by alien, invasive species in the Cape Floral region of South Africa are estimated at $93 million a year.

An intact wetland in Canada is valued at $6,000 a hectare whereas one cleared for intensive agriculture is worth about $2,000 a hectare.

The annual recreational value of coral reefs in the six Marine Management Areas of the Hawaiian islands ranges from $300,000 to tens of millions of dollars a year.

Studies from Algeria, Italy, Portugal, Syria and Tunisia also point to the value of intact forests. These estimate that the value of the timber and fuel-wood from a forest is worth less than a third when compared with the value of services such as water-shed protection, recreation and the absorption of pollutants like greenhouse gases.

The burning of 10 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests in the late 1990s cost an estimated $9 billion as a result of factors such as increased health care and tourism losses.

Costs of restoring a damaged ecosystem back to health are also high. In the American state of Louisiana, billions of dollars are being spent to restore coastal marshes and wetlands as part of measures to reduce storm surges generated by hurricanes.

In advance of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland July 4 to 6, Toepfer urged the world's wealthiest governments to back a substantial replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The GEF is a multi billion dollar fund, which assists developing countries in environment and development projects, enabling them to implement their commitments to four major global environmental conventions.

"The GEF is the most important source of environmental funding for developing countries, helping them in areas such as mitigation and adaptation to climate change, conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, phase out of harmful and persistent chemicals and combating land degradation. Governments must ensure its continued success by giving it the necessary financial backing," Toepfer said.

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Dunes of the Sahara Desert encroach on Nouakchott, the capital of the African country of Mauritania. (Photo by Georg Gerster courtesy USGS)
The launch of the Millennium Development Goals report on Friday coincided with the World Day to Combat Desertification, a day Toepfer marked by announcing the start of a new $3.5 million UNEP and GEF project to combat land degradation around Kenya’s Mount Marsabit.

The project is the latest in a $115 million dollar portfolio of projects addressing land degradation in Africa implemented by UNEP and co-financed by the GEF. These projects are concrete actions supporting the Environment Initiative of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

NEPAD’s Environment Initiative, adopted by African Heads of State, has been developed and is being implemented with the support of GEF and UNEP.

Toepfer also announced that UNEP will partner in a major $100 million initiative to combat land degradation and promote sustainable land management in Africa soon to be announced by the World Bank.

This project, supported by the GEF, is expected to be announced during the G8 summit in Scotland. It is viewed as a contribution to the International Year of Deserts and Desertification in 2006 initiated by UNEP.