UNEP Launches Space Atlas for World Environment Day

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) marked “World Environment Day” on Friday, June 3 with the release of a spectacular new Atlas, entitled “One Planet Many People,” featuring comparative views of our planet from satellite images.

Rapid urbanization, sprawling shrimp farms and dwindling forests are among the many highlights that show “the dramatic and, in some cases, damaging environmental changes sweeping planet Earth.” The Atlas “compares and contrasts spectacular satellite images of the past few decades with contemporary ones, some of which have never been seen before,” said UNEP.

“The huge growth of greenhouses in southern Spain, the rapid rise of shrimp farming in Asia and Latin America and the emergence of a giant, shadow puppet-shaped peninsula at the mouth of the Yellow River are among a string of curious and surprising changes seen from space,” it continued. “They sit beside the more conventional, but no less dramatic images of rain forest deforestation in Paraguay and Brazil, rapid oil and gas development in Wyoming, United States, forest fires across sub-Saharan Africa and the retreat of glaciers and ice in polar and mountain areas.”

The attempt to create a picture of the entire planet’s environment involved the use of a number of images from varying sources, including the United States Geological Survey and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

For the insurance industry they provide graphic proof that many urban areas are undergoing dramatic changes that will ultimately affect how risks are structured and what kinds of coverage are needed to meet changed conditions. While a general survey doesn’t provide much detailed information, it acts as a warning that new studies and initiatives are need, if the industry hopes to avoid some very unpleasant and costly surprises.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s executive director, commented: “People living in San Francisco or London may look at these images of deforestation or melting Arctic ice, and wonder what it has to do with them. That these changes are the result of other people’s lifestyles and consumption habits hundreds and thousands of kilometers away. But they would be wrong. Cities pull in huge amounts of resources including water, food, timber, metals and people. They export large amounts of wastes including household and industrial wastes, wastewater and the gases linked with global warming. Thus their impacts stretch beyond their physical borders affecting countries, regions and the planet as a whole.” He added that the “battle for sustainable development, for delivering a more environmentally stable, just and healthier world, is going to be largely won and lost in our cities.”

The entire release and related documents may be obtained on the organization’s Web site at: www.unep.org.