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Fourth Global Environment Outlook - Environment for development - GEO-4

Other type | 24-10-2007
Photo of the cover of GEO-4, showing 4 GEO-globes in a row

If the future 9 billion people on this planet are to be assured of food and clean drinking water, the demand for land will be just as pressing a problem in the coming decades as climate change is now. Considering that a well-balanced ecosystem is one of the essential conditions for the supply of food and water, also the protection of biodiversity is of great importance. This conclusion is drawn in UNEP’s Fourth Global Environment Outlook, 'Environment for development' (GEO-4). MNP was one of the contributors to this report.

Land availability and loss of biodiversity just as urgent as climate change

Export of vulnerability

GEO-4 investigates the effects of the often worsened environmental changes for quality of life worldwide. Environmental sustainability is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and also of crucial importance in achieving other millennium goals as halving poverty, hunger and diseases. MNP’s contributions to GEO-4 are found in the areas of environment and development, vulnerability of societies, future scenarios, air quality and climate change. 

Vulnerability to environmental change cannot be considered separately from other changes occurring in the current, globalising world. Vulnerability is concerned with distribution of risks and inequality. In many cases it is the poor, the elderly, children, the women and the indigenous population who are the most vulnerable to the effects of environmental changes. Some of the problems of industrialised countries, or solutions to these problems, are shifted to developing countries, taking with them immediate consequences for the vulnerable groups. GEO-4 has coined the term ‘export of vulnerability’ for this development. Examples are seen in the import of palm oil as fuel, without considering the consequences for the local population. Other examples are the negative consequences for local employment in the fishing industry by competition of the international fleet and the local health effects due to the transfer of production and the export of wastes.

The distribution of natural resources contributes in many situations to the intensification of existing tension in potential conflict areas. However, GEO-4 does also show that cooperation in environmental issues can contribute to building trust between countries and, with it, prevention of conflicts. Examples here are the shared management of regional waters, forests and nature reserves.

Access to clean drinking water and land degradation

GEO-4 shows that access to clean drinking water is declining. In 2025 approximately 1.8 billion people will face a shortage of drinking water. In the coming decades drinking of contaminated water will continue to be the most important cause of poor health and mortality in the environmental domain. Two billion people will be confronted with the effects of non-sustainable land use due to soil contamination and erosion, water shortage and salinisation. The competition for land and water among the various sectors such as agriculture, biofuels, nature conservation and urbanization will continue to increase the tension. The GEO scenarios demonstrate a growing competition in the tropics.


Protection and sustainable management of biodiversity is essential for poverty eradication and in reducing vulnerability. Hurricane Jeanne (in 2004) led to fewer than 20 deaths in the Dominican Republic, but to 2700 deaths in Haiti, situated on the same island. According to analyses, the level of development but also changes in land use, have a large influence on the eventual consequences for the population. Deforestation increases the risk of flooding under extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes. About one-quarter of the Dominican Republic consists of forest, while next-door neighbour Haiti only has 1%.

According to the GEO-4 scenarios the loss of biodiversity, along with climate change, will continue the coming decades, with the risk that critical boundaries will be exceeded.


In 1997, UNEP started to publish the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reports, which provide analyses of the global interactions between environment and society. Under its core mandate of constantly ‘keeping the global environment under review’, UNEP has published a series of scientific assessments to which MNP - as one of the collaborating partners of UNEP - has made substantial contributions. For GEO-IV this refers to the contributions from seven authors from MNP. MNP models are used extensively in in the outlook chapter.

On November 13th 2007, MNP will bring out Part II of the second Sustainability Outlook. This publication will address the role of the Netherlands in the major global sustainable development issues, including poverty reduction, energy and climate change, and biodiversity. Both GEO-4 and the forthcoming MNP Sustainability Outlook reconfirm the need of dealing with development and the environment in an integrated manner.

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Publication date25-10-2007