New UN tool allows armchair environmentalists to virtually visit global hotspots

4 September 2008

An initiative unveiled today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) allows computer users to utilize the popular mapping tool Google Earth to “fly” to 200 of the world’s environmental hotspots.

The atlas will showcase in three dimensions the impact of climate change and other human activities on the planet in places ranging from remote rainforests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the glaciers of Greenland and Alaska.

“If we are to change the hearts and minds of the global public we need to surprise, to excite and occasionally, perhaps, to shock,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “These images, allied to modern computer technology, do all three.”

Before-and-after images, including the loss of biodiversity-rich forests and farms in Madagascar, are also part of the new tool.

“They also show humanity is equally capable of positive, intelligent and empowering change – from the reforestation of parts of Niger to a new management plan for the Itezhi-tezhi Dam in Zambia which is helping to restore natural and seasonal flooding,” Mr. Steiner said.

The UNEP atlas is part of its popular series highlighting the changing environment, which also includes “One Planet Many People: Atlas of Our Changing Environment,” released in concert with Google Earth.

In a related development, a scheme called the Africa Carbon Forum, which seeks to boost the number of cleaner energy projects in Africa, was launched in Dakar, Senegal, today.

Under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), industrialized countries can offset some of their own greenhouse gas emissions to earn certified emission reduction credits.

“Combating climate change will take political will, and it will take a great deal of environment,” said Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“Mechanisms like the CDM are an important means to stimulate that investment, so it’s good to see that Africa is now getting the attention it deserves from the private sector and public sector through events like the Africa Carbon Forum.”

The continent still accounts for only 27 of the more than 1,150 CDM projects currently registered in nearly 50 developing nations, but that number is expected to grow.


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