Equity dimensions inform Global Environment Outlook-6


The drivers and pressures of environmental degradation are not evenly distributed across society. Nor are the benefits and risks of exposure to, and impacts of, environmental change equitably shared by present and future generations.

The Sustainable Development Goals hold out the promise to ensure that no one will be left behind as we strive to implement the 2030 Agenda. The inability to account for equity issues lead to policy failure on environmental issues which endanger achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Globally, approximately 702 million people live in extreme poverty on less than US$1.90 per day.[1] Most poor people today live in middle-income countries, but in 10 years poverty will become more concentrated in the more fragile least developed countries facing conflict and climate stress. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 41% of the population – 389 million people – lived in extreme poverty in 2013,[2] leaving them vulnerable to economic downturns and other external shocks.

It has long been understood that developing countries are likely to suffer most from the negative impacts of climate change, due to the economic importance of climate-sensitive sectors (e.g., agriculture and fisheries) for these countries, and to their limited human, institutional, and financial capacity to respond to the direct and indirect effects of climate change. The vulnerability is highest for least developed countries in the tropical and subtropical areas.[3]

While the distribution of poverty remains daunting, new drivers of deprivation have emerged in the present century. Environmental change and environmental degradation – desertification, deforestation, land degradation, climate change and water scarcity – are fundamentally redrawing the map of our world.[4]

The costs of inaction on climate and other environmental issues often fall especially hard upon those directly dependent on natural resources and nature’s contribution to humanity.

Approximately 70 percent of the world’s poor depend on natural resources for all or part of their livelihoods.[5] Ecosystem services and other non-market goods make up between 50 and 90 percent of the total source of livelihoods among poor rural and forest-dwelling households worldwide—the so-called “GDP of the poor”.[6]

Environmental degradation reinforces existing inequities, which in turn become further drivers of degradation, such as the loss of biodiversity, increasing levels of pollution or land degradation. Failing to account for the equity dimension can perpetrate a vicious inequality–environmental degradation circle.

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) assessments, and their consultative and collaborative processes, have worked to bridge the gap between science and policy by turning the best available scientific knowledge into information relevant for decision makers. Equity dimensions now need to be incorporated in the GEO. Attention to equity in policy making enhances the prospects for environmental effectiveness by ensuring that trade-offs are minimized, conflicts are pre-empted and prosperity is promoted.

The Equity dimensions team authors Leisa Perch, a policy specialist with the World Centre for Sustainable Development based in Barbados, and Sándor Fülöp, the Former Parliamentary Commissioner for future generations in Hungary, supported by Joeri Scholtens, a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Geography, are working to weave the equity dimension into the Global Environment Outlook. Isabell Kempf, Co-director, and Michael Stanley-Jones, Programme Management Officer, UNDP–UN Environment Poverty-Environment Initiative serve as advisers to the Equity dimensions team.

GEO-6 will go beyond previous editions of the Outlook by incorporating an equity perspective, one that recognizes that planetary health and human health are intimately interwoven.

The Fourth and final Global Authors Meeting of the Sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) will be held in Singapore, from 19-23 February 2018. The meeting is co-organized by UN Environment and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources of Singapore.


We wish to thank Professor Joyeeta Gupta and Dr. Joeri Scholtens, University of Amsterdam, for their insightful contributions to this article.


[1] Development Economics, World Bank Group, Ending Extreme Poverty and Sharing Prosperity: Progress and Policies, October 2015.

[2] In 2011 Purchasing Price Parity (PPP) prices. Our World in Data, University of Oxford, 2017.

[3] Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, 2003.

[4] Statement of UN Environment , Second informal thematic session on “Addressing drivers of migration, including the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human-made crises, through protection and assistance, sustainable development and poverty eradication, conflict prevention and resolution”, 23 May 2017.

[5] Green Economy Coalition, The Green Economy Pocketbook: The case for action, 2012.

[6] TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature), A synthesis of the Approach, Conclusions and Recommendations of TEEB), 2010.

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