UPSC MAINS 2019: Global Environmental Outlook

Global Environmental Outlook


Topic: India could save trillions in healthcare costs if Paris climate goals are met: Global Environmental Outlook

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3 : Ecology & Environment



Global Environmental Outlook


India could save at least $3 trillion (₹210 trillion approx.) in healthcare costs if it implemented policy initiatives consistent with ensuring that the globe didn’t heat up beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century, says the sixth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO), prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme.


More about on news:

  • India’s stated commitment is to lower emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030; increase total cumulative electricity generation from fossil free energy sources to 40% by 2030, and create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through additional forest and tree cover.
  • India is on track to achieve two of these goals — of emissions intensity and electricity generation — according to independent climate-watch site Climate Tracker.
  • However these actions are only enough — and provided other countries too live up to their commitments — to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees.


Global Environment Outlook (GEO):

  • It is series of reports on environment periodically published by UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).
  • It is also referred to as UN Environment’s flagship environmental assessment.
  • It was released for first time in 1997.
  • It is prepared by consultative and participatory process.
  • It is independent assessment of state of environment, effectiveness of policy response to tackle environmental challenges and possible pathways to achieve various internationally agreed environmental goals.
  • So far, five GEO reports have been published to date UNEP vz. GEO-1 (1997), GEO-2000 (1999), GEO-3 (2002), GEO-4 (2007), GEO-5 (2012) and GEO-6 (2019).


Key Findings of report:

  • A quarter of all premature deaths and diseases worldwide are due to manmade pollution and environmental damage – around 9 million deaths in 2015 alone.
  • Lacking access to clean drinking supplies, 1.4 million people die each year from preventable diseases such as diarrhea and parasites linked to pathogen-riddled water and poor sanitation.
  • Chemicals pumped into the seas cause “potentially multi-generational” adverse health effects.
  • Land degradation through mega-farming and deforestation occurs in areas home to 3.2 billion people.
  • The report called for a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide use to improve air and water quality.
  • Food waste for instance, which accounts for 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, could be slashed.
  • The world currently throws away a third of all food produced. In richer nations, 56% goes to waste.
  • The report advises adopting less-meat intensive diets and reducing food waste in both developed and developing countries.
  • This would reduce the need to increase food production by 50% to feed the projected 9-10 billion people on the planet in 2050.
  • The report says air pollution causes 6-7 million early deaths annually.
  • The report called for a root-and-branch detoxifying of human behaviour while insisting that the situation is not unassailable.
  • Food waste for instance, which accounts for 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, could be slashed. The world currently throws away a third of all food produced. In richer nations, 56% goes to waste.



The structure of the GEO process:

  • The writers themselves include 250 scholars and experts from all over the world who are willing to volunteer their time to undertake the necessary research.
  • They were nominated and selected based on their curriculum vitae.
  • They do not conduct primary research—they are only authorised to review the existing literature.
  • They have been writing their individual chapters which was sent for review five times and received thousands of comments which had to be addressed as best as possible given the page, time, and data constraints.
  • GEO-6 builds upon the series of regional reports undertaken in advance of this GEO; the ongoing assessments on other environmental and health issues; the publications in the recent scholarly literature that updates the information from the last GEO.
  • The GEO is also based on a ‘theory of change’. It studies the problem, examines the policy options, looks at pathways of change, and then tries to mobilise people through specialised GEOs.

Working structure of GEO


Drivers of Environmental Challenges:

DriversExplanationSome policy options



  • Increasing worldwide to 10 billion in 2050, mostly in Africa, increasing pressure on resources.
  • Greying population in rich countries increasing pressure on resources.
  • Reduce (gender) inequality; invest in health for the under 5’s; increase access to health.
  • Change production and consumption patterns.



  • Demographic shift to urban areas.
  • Urbanisation increases demand because of higher incomes and power.
  • Urbanisation can decrease per capita footprint through concentration; but increase risks to floods and droughts.
  • Growing informal settlements lack services are exposed to pollution.
  • Invest in rural areas
  • Spatial planning critical for reducing urban footprint
  • Urban environment management essential
  • Encourage the circular and sharing economy.
  • Invest in services for slums to reduce health risks for all.



Economic growth

  • Increases prosperity but not necessarily equality.
  • Increases pressure on extraction of resources and dumping of wastes.
  • Environmental pressures are differentiated depending on who produces, consumes and invests.
  • Inequality is associated with high consumption of private goods and lower investment in public goods; and a higher growth rate is needed to meet the needs of the poor in unequal societies.
  • Meeting the needs of 10 billion people in 2050 may require redefining growth as development and well-being.
  • Circular economy, reduce demand, delink pollution from the economy.
  • Address the pollution associated with energy.
  • Focus on which consumption patterns are detrimental to society and phase them out.
  • Reduce inequality and address the poverty agenda.


  • Can reduce pollutants per capita while enhancing well-being.
  • Can accelerate extraction and waste.
  • Creates new unintended impacts.
  • Dematerialization, decarburization, detoxification, green chemistry, environmental standards.  
  • Promote precautionary principle.


Climate change

  • Temperature increases are already between 0.8-1.2°C since industrial times.
  • Leads to climate impacts.
  • Climate change is differentially caused by different parts of the world and different income categories.
  • Climate change has differential impacts.
  • Need to focus on mitigation fast; the later the world peaks, the quicker the phase out required leading to stranded assets – assets that which cannot be used.
  • The later the peaking, the more difficult to transform society; Without additional policy, the energy-related Carbon budget will be exhausted in 20 years if we wish to stay well below 2°C.
  • Need to focus on adaptation and avoid maladaptation.


Cross-cutting issues and solutions:

ExplanationPolicy Options
People & livelihoodsHealth
  • Health and well-being is associated with access to resources and the environment for life and livelihoods and exposure to risks
  • Health and environment are highly synergetic
  • Make coherent policies
  • Slow onset disasters are 90% of all disasters
  • Between 2005 and 2015, 1.7 billion people affected by environmental disasters, killing 0.7 million people, a damage of $1.4 trillion
  • Prevention,
  • preparedness, and resilience;
  • Mainstream disaster risk in development  
  • Climate policy
  • Causes and impacts are gendered; Policy options are not gender neutral.
  • Apply a gender lens
  • Collect differentiated data
  • Promote gender equality
  • Education still not accessible to many children;
  • Education for sustainable development (ESD) not yet mainstreamed world-wide.
  • Universal education,
  • Including ESD necessary
  • 54% of the world population is urban,
  • earns 80% of world GDP,
  • occupies 7% of land,
  • Contributes 70% of GHG emissions
  • Impacts on 42% of the watersheds in addition to using water indirectly through food production.
  • Design/retrofit cities to enable shared mobility,
  • slum rehabilitation,
  • urban-industrial symbiosis,
  • Inclusive green infrastructure.
Changing EnvironmentsCCAffects all sectors and systems (Table 1)Mitigate/adapt emissions
  • Covers 20 per cent of the Earth;
  • Poles are warming faster;
  • Releases additional water from stored ice (which has 70 per cent of the planet’s fresh water);
  • Releases locked up pollutants;
  • Impacts coastal and mountain regions
  • Mitigate emissions
  • mainstream adaptation in development strategies
  • >100,000 chemicals in use, most not  researched or regulated;
  • Pharmaceuticals and compounds for agriculture/livestock are in water  affecting aquatic life and humans;
  • The costs of inaction on pesticide use can lead to health-related costs in Sub-Saharan Africa as high as $90 billion (2015-20)
  • Policy on standards
  • use
  • disposal of chemicals
 Waste & waste waterChemical, food, electronic waste accumulating globally; Loss of resources; Waste causes environmental damage; three billion people lack access to waste disposal facilities and millions live and work on unhealthy dumpsites
  • Waste can be recycled creating  a market estimated as $410 billion annually
  • Circular economy
  • Clean energy
  • Improve access to basic services in informal settlements
Resources and MaterialsResource useThe extraction industry produces some 90 billion tons of waste, uses energy, deforests land, and pollutes water
  • Dematerialize;
  • Better rules for extraction;
  • Circular economy;
  • Clean energy
 EnergyGlobal consumption at 13.5 billion tons oil equivalent and growing; Unequal access with 1.2 billion people without access to electricity and 2.7 billion using traditional fuels leading to household air pollution
  • Decarbonize; Transition to low carbon energy
  • Focus on clean and renewable energy;
  • Clean energy in households
 Food systemsMain cause of biodiversity loss and degradation; Food waste is 36 per cent globally and 55 per cent of global food waste is in rich countries (loss of $750 billion-$1 trillion p.a. and nine per cent of GHG emissions, excluding the impact of land use change). Food also has direct health impacts—diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.
  • Reduce food wastes
  • Reduce demand for meat
  • Produce more efficiently


Paris Agreement:

  • The Paris Agreement was adopted by 185 nations in December 2015.
  • India had signed the agreement in New York in April 2016.
  • So far, 191 countries have signed the agreement.
  • It officially entered into force after 55 parties to the convention accounting for at least 55% of total GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions ratified it
  • India was 62nd country to ratify it.


Outcomes of Paris Climate talks:

Paris climate talks resulted in the following broad outcomes:

  • Commitment to reduce emissions to limit rise of temperature well beyond 2 degree and trying for 1.5 degree
  • Five year review mechanism to check progress on nationally declared goals (INDCs)
  • Funding to the tunes of additional 1 million USD per year in GCF up till 2020, further establishing a mechanism.
  • The agreement also includes a provision requiring developed countries to send $100 billion annually to their developing counterparts beginning in 2020. This figure is expected to increase with time.
  • The agreement gives countries considerable leeway in determining how to cut their emissions but mandates that they report transparently on those efforts. Every five years nations will be required to assess their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them. Some elements in the agreement are binding-like reporting requirements.


India’s performance:

  • India’s greenhouse gas emission intensity of its GDP will be reduced by 33-35 % below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • 40 % of India’s power capacity would be based on non-fossil fuel sources.
  • India will create an additional ‘carbon sink’ of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of Co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
  • India is well on way to achieve the target for emission intensity of the economy and share of non-fossil fuel-based power capacity.
  • Another 17-23 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity addition could take India to the target well before 2030.
  • At current rates of improvement on both fronts, India could achieve these targets ahead of the 2030 deadline.


Sample Question:

Recently sixth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) says that “India could save trillions in healthcare costs if Paris climate goals are met” critically examine the statement.

Global Environment Outlook - Info graphics - Mar13th