Top 5 Takeaways from the GEO-5 for Youth Publication

One Young World Ambassador from Mauritius, Karuna Rana speaks about the newly launched environmental publication, Tunza Acting for a Better World that she co-authored/co-edited for the United Nations Environment Programme.


Follow Karuna on Twitter: @karuna_mru


So, today is the International Mother Earth Day, a.k.a. Earth Day, which makes me curious to know: Have you ever wondered about the current state of the environment and what it implies for us, both presently and in the future? By now, you must have heard about how our climate is fast changing, and that we humans are responsible for it. Maybe you assume that environmental issues will resolve them self, and that everything will be okay, at least in your lifetime. Or you have probably concluded that we are already doomed, so you might as well maximise your use of environmental resources as long as they last. Obviously, you could also be one of the few (but rapidly growing number of) individuals working towards improving the state of the environment.

No matter which group you be​long to, the fact is that we, humanity as a whole, face a series of environmental challenges that require urgent attention. Unless we do not comprehensively understand what the environmental challenges are, we will not be able to prioritise our actions.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) appointed 3 young people, as part of the Tunza Programme for Children and Youth, to write the youth version of its flagship report – the 5th edition of Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5). Entitled Tunza Acting for a Better World: GEO-5 for Youth, the publication condenses the 550-page GEO-5 report into a concise, up-to-date and youth-friendly account of the state of the environment, including the current status of internationally agreed environmental goals and policies. It also acts as an inspiring, action toolkit for young people to effect change.

The three ‘Youth Editors’ from Malta, Ireland and Mauritius have worked with many other young people from around the world to ensure that GEO-5 for Youth takes into account regional considerations whilst providing a global outlook of environmental issues.

The publication was launched on 11 February 2013 during the UNEP-Tunza International Youth Conference on the Environment in Nairobi, Kenya. The launch was attended by hundreds of young people from over 100 countries, and by UN officials. 

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As one of the Youth Editors, I’ve had a great learning experience thoroughly reading through the GEO-5 report. There are 5 key takeaways that a reader gets from this publication.


1. Climate change is only ONE of the numerous environmental issues.

All that emphasis on climate change can make it look like it is the only environmental issue we face. As a result, climate change skeptics tend to ignore environmental issues altogether. Firstly, there is solid scientific proof of an increasingly alarming climate change caused by man-made carbon dioxide emissions. Secondly, the impacts of climate change could be as disastrous as the disappearance of low-lying islands (e.g. Maldives). Nevertheless, environmental issues go beyond climate change. Air and water pollution, solid waste management, food and water security, and biodiversity loss – these are some examples of environmental issues that are as critical as climate change. For instance, it is estimated that annually deaths of about 3.1 million people worldwide are attributable to air pollution.


2. Our planet has limits; signs show that we are approaching ours.

This is a no brainer. It is high time that we acknowledge Earth as a ‘closed system’, i.e. everyone here today, and tomorrow, will need to live off what the planet provides, including the devastating effects of imbalances in the Earth system. Studies have shown that we have 9 planetary boundaries, 3 of which have already been exceeded. These are climate change, biodiversity loss, and biochemical boundaries. In addition, around half of the global environmental goals and objectives analysed under the GEO-5 assessment are far from achieved. We surely face serious challenges that require immediate attention and action.


3. We have already solved 2 major environmental issues as a global community – hooray!

Do you remember studying about the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer, or the increasing levels of lead found in children blood at school? Well, things might be different for our kids. The phase out of ozone depleting substances, conducted under the Montreal Protocol, is the best example of how the global community agreed on solutions to protect our environment. As a result of this phase out, the ozone layer is now on its way towards a slow but important recovery. The removal of lead from gasoline in all but 6 countries globally is another environmental success story. Complete removal is expected in a few years. These examples prove that we can solve environmental issues, including climate change, provided we have the right will to work together as an international community.


4. Taking environmental action is easy and does not necessarily take time.

GEO-5 for Youth is not just about environmental problems; it is also about going beyond the status quo and acting for change together. Throughout the publication, a series of selected case studies such as Project Jatropha and ConstruCycle have been included to highlight successful actions taken by youth worldwide to address pressing environmental issues. The publication also introduces the ‘OneOne’ campaign – a series of action tips that challenges you to take an environmental action in one second, one minute, one week, one month, etc. Throw complacency out of the window and implement one of more of these ‘OneOne’s in your daily life. You can be a superhero too!


5. Rio+20 cannot be necessarily tagged as a failure.

Environmental issues are intertwined with social equity, economy and politics. Therefore, GEO-5 for Youth has an entire section about the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (a.k.a. Rio+20) – the most important conference on sustainable development to date. What’s new about a ‘failed’ conference that happened months ago, you may ask? A lot! The GEO-5 for Youth publication takes an entirely different outlook of Rio+20, from a youth’s perspective. It focuses less on the Rio+20 policy outcomes, and more on youth actions and successes. For instance, how many of you are aware that youth delegates managed to lobby their way to the Governments and include a paragraph on non-formal education in the Rio+20 negotiation text when the text was closed for further amendments? The Rio+20 section also features views of young people on the way forward post Rio+20, on the Sustainable Development Goals, and on the post-2015 agenda. It’s clear that Rio+20 gave way to a growing youth environmental movement, and can therefore not be tagged as a failure.


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                (Above: Karuna speaking at last year's Summit in Pittsburgh, USA)


GEO-5 for Youth is more than a youth publication. Irrespective of whether you’re a young person or not, this publication is for every individual looking for an easy, concise read on the current state of the environment. It is also for all individuals looking for some inspiration and empowering action ideas to become an environmental superhero!

Every day should be Earth Day, but today serves as a good excuse to make or renew your commitment towards environmental action. Get an electronic copy of GEO-5 for Youth