|["The prophecy of doom is made to avert its coming, and it would be the
height of injustice later to deride the 'alarmists' because 'it did not
turn out so bad after all.' To have been wrong may be their merit." Hans
The way we will live in 2032...
· Half the world will be short of water
· Urbanisation of 70% of land surface
· Another 2bn mouths to feed
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Thursday May 23, 2002
The destruction of 70% of the natural world in 30 years, mass extinction
of species, and the collapse of human society in many countries is
forecast in a bleak report by 1,100 scientists published yesterday.
The Global Environment Outlook, compiled for the UN, charts the
environmental degradation of the last 30 years since the first world
environment conference in Stockholm in 1972 and looks forward to how the
world might look by 2032.
Unless the world changes its current "markets first" approach, the
increase in building of roads, power lines, airports and other
infrastructure will disrupt wildlife breeding patterns and wipe out
species, particularly in coastal areas where most human settlement is
concentrated. Forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate and 10%
of land on which to grow food is lost because of soil degradation.
More than half the world will be afflicted by water shortages, with 95%
of people in the Middle East with severe problems and 65% in the rest of
Asia and the Pacific.
The Mediterranean coast will come under special pressure through urban
growth, inadequate waste water treatment, tourism and intensively farmed
But the report says it need not be like that. In richer countries water
and air pollution is down, species have been restored to the wild, and
forests are increasing in size.
The 450-page analysis was published in London yesterday partly to shock
world leaders into taking seriously the World Summit on Sustainable
Development, to be held in South Africa in August.
The last preparation meeting for the conference takes place in Bali,
Indonesia, next week, and many doubt that the agenda reflects the urgency
of the problem.
The report paints four possible futures for the world, including the
current pattern of free trade and short term profit at the expense of the
environment, which leads to disaster.
In a second, equally dangerous scenario, security considerations dominate
with fear of terror and mass immigration into rich areas. It involves a
world split into rich and poor, with freedom of movement and democracy
restricted and rich enclaves like Europe and North America with barriers
keeping out the poor and desperate.
A third offers a strong policy based option where governments try to
protect the environment with international treaties with varying degrees
of success. The fourth, where all decisions are based on sustainable
development rather than short time gain and greed, is the blueprint
favoured by the report.
Klaus Toepfer, the UN Environment Programme executive director, called
for concrete actions and an iron political will to change the existing
pattern. "Without the environment there can never be the kind of
development needed to secure a fair deal for this or future generations.
It would be disastrous to ignore the picture painted."
He said that under the "markets first" scenario the environment and
humans did not fare well. "The human footprint grows, inflicting
"We now have hundreds of declarations, agreements, guidelines and legally
binding treaties designed to address environmental problems and the
threats they pose to wildlife and human health and well being. Let us now
find the political courage and innovative financing needed to implement
these deals and steer a healthier, more prosperous course for planet
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, who is going to Bali, which
has been painted as a junket for ministers and civil servants, said it
was vital to make progress to set a proper agenda for action for the
The key aims for the meeting were to make progress on issues such as
clean water, energy supply and food security for developing countries.
She said tough action was needed now to avoid potential environmental
disaster in the 2030s. "There may not be a world worth living in. History
will see it as a tragic lost opportunity if we fail to meet this
challenge," she said.
Although the report paints a dismal picture of the last 30 years, it
points to some successes for treaties. The hole in the ozone layer is at
a record size, but the repair of the damage is forecast to begin by 2032
because the use of ozone depleting chemicals is being phased out.
Mr Toepfer said that he hoped that George Bush would come to the
Johannesburg summit to pledge support for a different world, including
plans for a World Environment Organisation, and concrete projects like
using renewable energy to give development hope to two billion people
without electricity. There was a plan for the complete electrification of
Africa with renewable supplies.
But the report says time is short. Land degradation, because of human
activity, is already causing a crisis in agricultural production in some
areas. For example in Iraq, because of bad irrigation practices, 30% of
arable land has been abandoned because of salt contamination. A water
crisis is developing across the whole of the Arab world as ground water
is pumped out faster than rain can replenish it. Seawater is increasingly
being drawn into underground freshwater supplies. For example, in Madras
in India salt has poisoned fresh supplies seven miles inland.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, home of 25% of the world's forest
cover and 178 regions of special biodiversity, the situation is already
critical in 31 of them. "Biodiversity is constantly under threat from
habitat loss, land degradation, land use change, deforestation and marine
pollution," the report says.
Tony Juniper, director designate of Friends of the Earth, said: "This
report poses a stark choice between destructive policies based on global
market forces or embracing sustainable development. Meeting the needs of
billions of poor people while protecting the environment is the great
challenge posed to political and industrial leaders by this report.
Delaying action is no longer an option. The Johannesburg summit must
develop the necessary change in direction."
Counting the cost
The bad news
· In 30 years 70% of the Earth's surface will be suffering severe impacts
of man's activities, destroying the natural world with roads, mining and
· 1,183 species of birds, around 12% of the world's total, and 1,130
species of mammals, about a quarter, are threatened with extinction
· One third of the world's fish stocks are depleted or overexploited
· Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double by
2050. The number of people affected by weather related disasters has
risen from 147 million a year to 211 million in 10 years
· There are 2.2 billion more mouths to feed than in 1972, and there will
be another 2 billion in 30 years
· Already 40% of the world is short of fresh water, in 30 years this will
rise to 50%. In west Asia this rises to 90%
· At least 15% of the Earth's surface is already degraded by human
· Overgrazing causes 35% of soil degradation, deforestation 30%,
· More than a billion urban dwellers, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin
America, live in slums. Another billion people will be living in cities
· Half the world's rivers are seriously depleted and polluted. About 60%
of the 227 biggest are disrupted by dams and other engineering works
· There are 4 billion cases of diarrhoea causing 2.2 million deaths a
· 2 billion people are at risk from malaria, and 2 million die a year
· Contaminated shellfish causes an estimated 2.5 million cases of
infectious hepatitis annually, resulting in 25,000 deaths
· A fifth of the world's population is responsible for 90% of
consumption.Two thirds of the population, about 4 billion people, live on
less than $2 a day
And the good
· The hole in the ozone layer is being repaired because of an 85%
reduction in use of harmful chemicals in 114 countries
· The number of people with improved water supplies increased from 4.1
billion to 4.9 billion in the last 10 years
· About 10% of the Earth, 12.18m hectares, is in protected areas like
national parks, five times as much as 30 years ago
· A moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986 is allowing species to
· The amount of water abstracted for public supply in western Europe fell
by 10% in 10 years because of efficient use
· Emissions of most air pollutants in Europe have declined since the