2008 Rio Conventions Calendar Photography
2008 Rio Conventions Calendar
A key outcome of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio were international environmental agreements,
which define the international community’s commitments towards biodiversity, climate
change and desertification. Since Rio, the conventions on Biodiversity and Climate Change
have expanded to include new legal mechanisms — the Biosafety and Kyoto Protocols,
while in 2007, the Convention to Combat Desertification adopted the ten year strategic plan
and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention.
Continuously furthering the implementation and commitment to each of these agreements is
crucial for collectively securing our future and the future of the planet. Sustainable
development approaches have become ever more important globally, as they help humankind to
abate biodiversity loss, climate change and desertification.
Yet sustainable development approaches also help humans cope with the inevitable negative
consequences of the three phenomena. By identifying synergies between the agreements, the
co-benefits of responses to biodiversity, climate change and desertification can be
harnessed. Reforestation, for example, not only prevents erosion and reverses
desertification, but also mitigates CO2 emissions and increases biodiversity. This calendar
visualizes the sheer beauty and spectacular diversity of our planet. At the same time, it
pictures the planet’s and our fragility. It reminds us that, for the sake of future
generations, we need to change the way we develop into something that is beneficial to our
environments, societies and economies.
www.unfccc.int www.biodiv.org www.unccd.int
Thanks to our
Antarctica — Snow Hill Island Disrupted food chain
Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) like it cold. Now, scientists have determined that
the penguins’ susceptibility to climate change accounts for a dramatic decline in their
number over the past half century.
Over the past 50 years, the population of Antarctic Emperor Penguins has declined by 50%.
Using the longest series of data available, researchers have shown that an abnormally long
warm spell in the Southern Ocean during the late 1970s contributed to a decline in the
population of Emperor Penguins at Terre Adelie, Antarctica.
Warmer air and sea surface temperatures in the Antarctic reduce the amount of ice in the sea.
This, in turn, leads to smaller populations of krill, a shrimp-like crustacean that is a
staple of the Emperor Penguin’s diet. With less food to eat, Emperor Penguins will die.
Photograph Paul Souders
United States — Shishmaref, Alaska
Washed away For the Inuit residents of Shishmaref, a tiny island between Alaska and Siberia,
climate change is a multifaceted problem. Firstly, sea ice that used to envelop the island
around late September is now forming only in December.
This leaves the island vulnerable to storms that have already washed 10 houses into the sea.
Other houses have had to be moved back from the edge. Secondly, the animals they rely on as
part of their subsistence are becoming harder to find, as they migrate further north, away
from the island.
Photograph Ashley Cooper
Water is indispensable for all forms of life. It is needed for almost all human activities.
Access to safe freshwater is now regarded as a universal human right (United Nations
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2003) and the Millennium Development Goals
include the extended access to safe drinking water and sanitation (UNDP, 2006).
Sustainable management of freshwater resources has gained importance at regional and global
levels. The climate and freshwater systems are interconnected in complex ways. Any change in
one of these systems induces a change in the other — and can exacerbate problems of
desertification, or lead to the loss of biodiversity.
Photograph Iain Crockart
United Kingdom — The Forests of England
Trees under threat Forests and woodlands are an important part of our landscape and provide
many benefits to society. The tree species that are native to England have adapted to the
local climate, atmosphere and soils over many years.
However, human activities have resulted in changes to the natural environment, especially
over the past 200 years. It is expected that the climate of England will become milder and
wetter in winter, and significantly hotter and drier in the summer months over the coming
These changes to our climate are predicted to be larger and more rapid than any since the
last ice-age, posing real problems for trees, woodland and forestry. Human-induced climate
change has become increasingly important in our everyday lives and, inevitably, will continue
to do so.
Photograph Harry Cory Wright
Brazil — Açai Amazonas
Insurance policy for the future The açai is a fruit found in the Amazon with antioxidant
properties. Its organic cultivation is precious for the local economies of that region.
Civilization and human well-being have been built and depend for their future on agriculture
— the foundations of which are biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. Some 7,000 plant
species have been cultivated for food since agriculture began about 12,000 years ago.
Today, only 15 plant species and eight animal species supply 90% of our food. Wild relatives
of food crops are an insurance policy for the future, as they can be used to breed new
varieties that can cope with changing conditions. Agricultural production is underpinned by
services of functioning ecosystems, themselves dependent on biodiversity.
But during the course of this century, if greenhouse gas emissions and other changes continue
at or above current rates, the ability of ecosystems to adapt naturally is likely to be
exceeded by an unprecedented combination of change in climate and in other global change
drivers. Projected impacts on biodiversity are significant and of key relevance, since global
losses in biodiversity are irreversible.
Some 20 to 30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if
global mean temperatures exceed a warming of 1.5 — 2.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Concerted action on climate, land management and biodiversity is not an option — it is
essential to our future.
Photograph Mimi Mollica
United States — Death Valley, California
Unnatural peril Desertification has historically been a problem and remains a concern across
a large portion of the western United States.
Desertification on rangelands and lower elevation forests and woodlands due to human
activities, including unsustainable practices such as overgrazing is apparent, particularly
during drought conditions.
Across the world, desertification is threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions. The
impacts of climate change will make this worse. In Africa, for example, the area suitable for
agricultural use in semiarid areas is expected to decrease.
This will adversely affect food security and exacerbate the problem of malnutrition on the
continent. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%
Photograph James Bareham
Tuvalu — Funafuti Atoll
Tuvalu is on the front line of the battle against climate change. Only 15 feet above sea
level at the highest point (with many parts of the island lying at or barely above current
sea levels), rising sea levels are increasingly putting the island population of 10,000 at
It seems likely that this island nation will be the first country to disappear completely as
a result of climate change. Sea levels in the Pacific have risen slowly over the last 20
years and the rate of rise seems likely to increase as ice sheets and glaciers melt more
rapidly with ever warming temperatures.
Tuvalu is the smallest country in the world, only 26 km2, and most vulnerable to sea level
rise. Already during the highest tides, sea water is forced up through the porous coral atoll
and floods many low-lying areas of the island during the highest tides.
This salt water incursion poisons the thin soils and makes growing crops increasingly
difficult, leaving Tuvaluans increasingly dependent on expensive imports. As well as sea
level rise, weather patterns are altering with a shift in the cyclone period by a month and
an increase in stormy weather. The stormy weather is creating greater wave erosion and many
parts of the island are suffering land loss, as palm trees are washed into the sea as the
island is undercut by wave action.
Photograph Ashley Cooper
Lebanon — Beirut
Rapid urbanization in relatively high-risk areas is a special concern because it concentrates
people and assets, increasing vulnerability to impacts of climate change. According to the
latest United Nations projections, the world’s total population will rise substantially
and is expected to reach between 8.7 and 9.3 billion in 2030.
More than half of these people live in urban centres, and practically all live in
settlements, depending on industry, services, and infrastructures for jobs, well-being and
mobility. Risk-prone settlements such as coastal areas are expected to experience not only
increases in weather-related disasters but also major increases in population, urban areas
and economic activity, especially in developing countries.
Growing population and wealth in exposed or vulnerable coastal locations could result in
increased environmental, economic and social damage. Large-scale adaptation in cities and the
integration of adaptation strategies into national and international development strategies
is urgently required.
Biodiversity resources constitute an essential input for up to 40% of the world’s
economy, and while only 2% of the world’s surface is urbanized, decisions made in
cities define the consumption of up to 75% of natural resources.
The growing role played by local authorities in allocating resources, promoting and
attracting sustainable investments and technology, managing consumption and defining land-use
planning makes them critical partners to achieve sustainable development. Around the world,
leading cities are showing that urbanization does not necessarily lead to environmental
degradation: cities can be part of the solution.
Photograph Sami Sarkis
Kenya — Amboseli National Park
Melting water security Mount Kilimanjaro’s ice cap and the glaciers that flow from it
are disappearing fast. Climate change can be intangible, but its impacts, such as melting ice
are clearly visible. Many climate change activists have seized upon Kilimanjaro as a striking
symbol of climate change, a poster child for the shrinking ice caps and glaciers around the
The evidence for a worldwide meltdown is overwhelming. According to the World Glacier
Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, of the 88 glaciers surveyed in 2002 and 2003, only
four were growing and at least 79 were receding.
Since 1912, 80% of the ice has disappeared, and the rest could be gone in under 20 years.
Many regions rely on freshwater supplies from glaciers. The rapidly melting glaciers threaten
this supply. In the Himalayas, for example, thousands of glaciers are the source of water for
nine major Asian rivers. Rapidly melting glaciers could significantly decrease the water
flow, meaning that millions of people could struggle to find drinking water.
Photograph Paul Souders
Defending the coast In the Netherlands, if the dykes broke, the floods would extend far into
Europe. The Dutch coastal defence system will protect the country against rising sea-levels.
The system is a good example of coastal management that also translates into early, proactive
action on adaptation, which significantly increases the potential of managing climate change
Increasingly, such adaptation technologies will have to be transferred to developing
countries, given that these countries have limited resources to adapt, but will be hit the
hardest by climate change impacts.
Photograph Iain Crockart
Green energy investments In responding to environmental degradation, China is beginning an
aggressive initiative to pursue renewable energy, thus also contributing to climate change
t is believed that China has the most wind power potential of any country in the world,
taking into account its inland and offshore sites. In 2005, China was an investment leader in
renewable energy along with Germany. According to the Renewables Global Status Report 2006,
each country invested around US$7 billion. India was the 6th largest investor in renewables.
Photograph Ryan Pyle
United Kingdom — Black Mountains, Wales
Last Tree Standing
The current rates of deforestation contribute to more than 20% of human-caused greenhouse gas
emissions, making deforestation across the globe a significant contributor to human-induced
climate change and biodiversity loss.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that between 2000 and 2005 an
average of 12.9 million hectares of forests was lost annually, mostly in South America,
followed by Africa and Asia. Moreover, deforestation’s contribution to biodiversity
loss increases the negative impacts of climate change on a number of aspects affecting human
life, including water, food and energy security and access to raw materials.
Photograph Iain Crockart
Volatile water resources
The vast landlocked West African country of Niger faces an increasing demand upon its scarce
water resources, the lack of which — when added to poor sanitation and hygiene —
results in high levels of death and disease among its 13 million inhabitants. Many of them
subsist on less than a dollar a day following traditional farming and livestock rearing in
this harsh and uncompromising climate. A number of lakes worldwide have decreased in size
during the last decades, mainly due to human water use. For some of them, decreased
precipitation was a significant cause, too, e.g. in the case of Lake Chad, where both
rainfall decrease and human water use account for the observed decrease in lake area since
the 1960s. For the many lakes, rivers and wetlands that have shrunk mainly due to human water
use and drainage, with negative impacts on ecosystems, climate change is likely to exacerbate
the situation if it results in less net precipitation (precipitation minus
Photograph Giuseppe Aquili
Scientists from the Norwegian Antarctic Research Expedition (organised by the Norwegian Polar
Institute) measure the intensity of light under the ice edge of Trolltunga, located off Queen
Maud Land in Antarctica. The aim is to gain greater knowledge of both man-made and natural
climate change. The penguins seem both curious and eager to contribute, as if they know that
research is vital to combat the global warming that may threaten their existence. All
countries must take determined steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the future of
humans and animals is to be safeguarded. The UN Rio Conventions form the main basis for the
international fight against climate change.
Photograph Tor Ivan Karlsen
Hurricanes have always battered coasts, but climate change could increase their force and
size. Sea levels are rising and will continue to rise as oceans warm and glaciers melt.
Higher sea levels mean higher storm surges, even from relatively minor storms, which
increases coastal flooding and subsequent storm damage along coasts. In addition, the
associated heavy rains can extend hundreds of miles inland, further increasing the risk of
flooding. Recent scientific evidence suggests a link between the destructive power (or
intensity) of hurricanes and higher ocean temperatures, driven in large part by climate
change. Increasing population growth in coastal regions is placing many more people and
structures at the mercy of hurricanes.
Photograph Iain Crockart
Whipsawed by desertification
In Morocco the picture is changing; it is now of the Sahara desert advancing into once-green
stretches. More than 22,000 hectares of arable land disappear under the desert every year now
in Morocco. Desertification is now threatening the entire country and almost 93% of Morocco
is affected by aridity. Date palms are the most ravaged by desertification. At the end of the
19th century, Morocco had an estimated 15 million date palms. That number has now dropped to
Photograph Sandy Pereira