|London Times, Sept. 16 1999
Global warming will trigger series of disasters, UN warns
BY NICK NUTTALL, ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT
THE world is facing a string of "full-scale environmental emergencies"
which threaten to cause misery for billions of people in the 21st century,
the United Nations said yesterday.
It is calling on the rich, industrialised nations including Britain to cut
their consumption of resources such as oil by 90 per cent to avert disaster
particularly in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world. In an
unprecedented assessment, the UN says air pollution is at crisis levels in
many of the world's cities.
Booming populations allied to over-exploitation of resources mean that many
countries and regions are set to run out of water and fertile land for
A fifth of the world's people lack access to safe drinking water and half
lack access to safe sanitation and "this situation is set to worsen
The UN cites the World Meteorological Office which claims that, unless
water is used more wisely, 66 per cent of the world's population will face
water shortages by 2025.
The report, Global Environment Outlook 2000, says that global warming
related to man-made emissions is now "inevitable", leading to a disastrous
rise in sea levels and in weather-related disasters including sharp
increases in flooding and hurricanes such as Hurricane Floyd. It says that
it is already too late for many species of plants and animals, large swaths
of the world's coral reefs and the tropical rainforests.
Damage to the rainforests, vital habitats and the planet's green lungs
which have been cleared for timber, agriculture and new cities, is now
irreversible, the study concludes.
The report, introduced in London by Klaus Topfer, executive director of the
UN's Environment Programme, is based on a survey of 200 scientists in 50
They cite global warming as the biggest threat to the planet followed by
the scarcity of fresh water, deforestation and desertification. New threats
are also emerging. Nitrogen loading of the world's environment, because of
its use as a fertiliser in intensive agriculture and as a result of
emissions from industry, power plants and cars, is proving to be a "largely
uncontrolled experiment" on a global scale, say the experts. Excessive
nitrogen levels in the environment are triggering the growth of unwanted
plants which are strangling estuaries and coastal areas.
"A massive increase in algal blooms is leading to underwater oxygen
starvation which in turn is responsible for fish kills in areas like the
Black Sea, Baltic Sea and Chesapeake Bay."
Nitrogen emissions account for 6 per cent of global warming from man-made
emissions and this is set to escalate.
The experts are also alarmed at the prospect of new wars, partly triggered
by environmental factors such as competition for fresh water, which will
directly damage the environment and wildlife while making millions homeless
who in turn take an ecological toll.
Increased globalisation and the smashing of trade barriers through
organisations such as the World Trade Organisation are in many cases
accelerating environmental problems, the report says.
"Where environmental issues are not incorporated in economic prices and
decision-making, trade can magnify unsustainable patterns of economic
activity and resource exploitation," says the report. A worrying aspect of
this has emerged recently as countries challenge national environmental
protection measures, claiming they are barriers to trade.
"Efforts to protect sea turtles, dolphins and sea birds have been struck
down for exactly that reason," says the report. It looks at the threats by
While forest cover in Western and Central Europe has grown by 10 per cent
since the 1960s, nearly 60 per cent of forests are damaged by
acidification, pollution, drought or fires. Nearly 70 per cent of waste in
Western Europe still ends up in rubbish tips. Waste levels in countries
such as Britain have climbed by 35 per cent since 1980.
Pollution of land through excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides and
by contaminants such as heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and
radionuclides is widespread in Europe, which produces a third of the
world's greenhouse gases.
The report says that there are some glimmers of hope including the
agreement in Kyoto by industrial countries to cut emissions and use cleaner
The Danger Signs
Key points in the report include the following:
There will be a billion cars by 2025, up from 40 million since the Second
A quarter of the world's 4,630 types of mammals and 11 per cent of the
9,675 bird species are at serious risk of extinction. More than half the
world's coral is at risk from dredging, diving and global warming.
80 per cent of forests have been cleared. A billion city dwellers are
exposed to health-threatening levels of air pollution.
The global population will reach 8.9 billion in 2050, up from 6 billion
now. Global warming will raise temperatures by up to 3.5C, triggering a
"devastating" rise in sea-levels and more severe natural disasters. Global
pesticide use is causing up to five million acute poisoning incidents