United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 2: Regional Perspectives

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The GEO process has found both striking similarities and marked differences among regional environmental priorities today. Environmental risks to human health are high on the priority list in North America and transboundary regional environmental problems and issues associated with unsustainable consumption and production patterns are major concerns in Europe. Of more immediate concern to Africa, and the less developed areas of West Asia and Asia and the Pacific, are food security and the diminution of poverty.

Regions with emerging market economies, such as those of Eastern Europe, SouthEast Asia, and parts of Latin America, increasingly face problems associated with rising energy demands and other negative effects of industrialization, such as increasing levels of pollutants and greenhouse gases. This trend will pose serious problems of acidification, transboundary pollution, reduced air quality, and declining health unless lessons of prior industrialization are heeded. Problems of burgeoning populations, rapidly increasing urbanization, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor are concerns shared by most regions.

Poverty and the growing global population are often targetted as responsible for much of the degradation of the world's resources. However, the inefficient use of resources (including those of others), waste generation, pollution and contamination from industry, and high levels of consumption are equally driving the earth toward an environmental precipice. Unfortunately, environmental problems are often disregarded when they interfere with shortterm economic impetus; they only attract thoughtful attention when economies are in jeopardy from the very environmental problems economic advancement may bring. The intergovernmental process is also too often slow in catching up with current conditions, and there is an increasing need to encourage greater environmental citizenship and informed voluntary action at all levels in societies.

In all regions it appears that politics and environment are increasingly inseparable. Widespread access to the media and modern communications in democratic societies, with the associated availability of environmental information empower individuals and interest groups to stimulate public policy response. Political changes sweeping through much of the developing and rapidly industrializing worlds suggest further dissemination of these technologies with accompanying transparency, access to information, and accountability.

Widespread poverty, the burden of increasing population without accompanying development, urbanization, and equity questions still menace sustainable development while acceptance is growing world-wide of the need to seek solutions together on a global scale. And, even though less developed regions have become involved increasingly in international environmental negotiations, survival strategies addressing the immediate needs of the poor often dictate short-term actions. As a result, immediate needs are often met through, for example, uncontrolled expansion of cultivation in wilderness areas and inadequate land management to support food production.

Even when technologies are available, economic pressures tend to slow change in industrial and industrializing countries, retarding the introduction of cleaner and more efficient production methods and reduced consumption. Unfortunately, in most regions there is only embryonic acceptance and application of preventive and remedial actions that-if taken sooner rather than later-would assist sustainable development in all regions.

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