State of the environment and policy responses, 1972–2002
Human vulnerability to environmental change
Outlook 2002–2032
Options for action

The year 1972 stands as a watershed in modern environmentalism. The first international conference on the environment — the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment — was convened in Stockholm in that year, bringing together 113 nations and other stakeholders to discuss issues of common concern. In the 30 years since then, the world has made great strides in placing the environment on the agenda at various levels — from international to local. Phrases such as ‘think global and act local’ have galvanized action at many different levels. The result has been a proliferation of environmental policies, new legislative regimes and institutions, perhaps an unspoken acknowledgement that the environment is too complex for humanity to address adequately in every sense.

Decisions made since Stockholm now influence governance, business and economic activity at different levels, define international environmental law and its application in different countries, determine international and bilateral relations among different countries and regions, and influence individual and society lifestyle choices.

But there are problems: some things have not progressed, for example, the environment is still at the periphery of socio-economic development. Poverty and excessive consumption — the twin evils of humankind that were highlighted in the previous two GEO reports — continue to put enormous pressure on the environment. The unfortunate result is that sustainable development remains largely theoretical for the majority of the world’s population of more than 6 000 million people. The level of awareness and action has not been commensurate with the state of the global environment today; it continues to deteriorate.

GEO-3 provides an overview of the main environmental developments over the past three decades, and how social, economic and other factors have contributed to the changes that have occurred.