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Multidisciplinary Sydney experts support landmark UN report

1 April 2019
Science and law scholars contribute to environmental assessment
University of Sydney science and law experts contributed to the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the health of the planet completed by the United Nations in the past five years.

Professor Elaine Baker, a marine scientist from the School of Geosciences and UN Environment collaborating centre GRID-Arendal, and Professor Tim Stephens, an expert in international environmental law from the University of Sydney Law School, were among 250 world-leading scientists and experts who contributed to the sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6) report.

The report warns that damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.

It also highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology and finance it needs to scale up environmental protections and move towards a more sustainable development pathway. However, it reports there is still insufficient support from the public, business and political leaders to take appropriate action.

"The results of GEO-6 are generally pretty depressing, with many ecosystems showing continuing decline since the last global assessment in 2012," Professor Baker said.

"GEO-6 makes it very clear that the many stressors we have placed on our environment will impact the livelihoods, health and food security of many of the most vulnerable on this planet, our only home. We can only hope that the science of the GEO will drive future policy decisions."

Professor Stephens said: "GEO-6 makes a clarion call for governments to embrace truly transformative policy change if we are to have a chance at meeting the challenges of sustainable development, including maintaining a safe climate."

Both academics said they were pleased to contribute to this vital work of the United Nation’s environment agency.

How our academics contributed

Professor Baker, a world-renowned expert in marine science and ocean governance, was the lead author of a chapter in the report – Oceans and Coasts – which examined the human pressures on the health of oceans over the last decade. Commentary on this chapter was also published in The Lancet. She also contributed to a chapter on Oceans and Coastal Policy and a section on circular economy. 

As one of the contributing authors to a chapter on Systemic Policy Approaches for Cross-cutting Issues, Professor Stephens was able to draw from his ongoing research on how international environmental law can be made more effective in the Anthropocene – the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.  

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