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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.


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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

Life’s elixir

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 century.

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% by 2020.

Photograph James Bareham

Tuvalu — Funafuti Atoll
Drowning nation

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 risk.

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
Expanding cities

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 world.

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

The Netherlands

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 impacts.

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 mitigation. I

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 evapotranspiration).

Photograph Giuseppe Aquili

Vital research

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

Battered coast

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 4.5 million.

Photograph Sandy Pereira