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

Chapter 4: Looking to the Future

[ GEO-1: Home | Complete Report | Search | Feedback | Order Book | Collaborating Centres | About GEO Reports ]

Forces Driving Change

The Economy

The economic system is the second major driving force for analyses of the human-environment system. It has industrial, agricultural, manufacturing, and servicing components, and is supported by an infrastructure of roads, schools, hospitals, and other facilities. Together, these constitute the stocks of economic capital.

Adequate functioning of "economic capital" has to be accompanied by other, less tangible forms of "human capital," including aspects such as education, and of "social capital," such as community and governance structures (see also World Bank, 1995a). The economic system can only be sustained by a continuous influx of energy and material derived from "environmental capital." History has repeatedly shown that a proper balance among these four forms of capital and their use is an important condition for a healthy, fulfilling, prosperous life. Experience has also shown that as countries become wealthier, there is generally a transition from a largely agricultural to an industrial economy and then towards a service and information-oriented economy the economic transition described earlier. (See also Maddison, 1991.)

For members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is assumed in this analysis that the service sector will continue to grow at the expense of agricultural and industrial contributions to GDP. Non-OECD regions are assumed to follow patterns similar to those in OECD countries. Per capita incomes in Latin America and East Asia are projected to exceed current levels in OECD Europe in the second half of the next century. Per capita incomes in Asia and the Pacific are assumed to rise faster than in industrial countries during the 1990-2050 period. In Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia, they are projected to rise more slowly from 1990 to 2015 (due to the slower decline of population growth, among other factors). In spite of these projected growth rates, the income gap between developing and industrial countries is likely to increase in the near future.

Convergence between per capita income levels in industrial and developing countries by 2050 (assuming a 1 to 1.5 per cent annual growth in GDP in industrial countries) would necessitate an average annual growth of 6 per cent in developing countries throughout the period. For Africa to catch up with North America, a 9 per cent regional growth rate would be needed. If GDP grows at 2 per cent per year in industrial countries, these figures would have to be 7 per cent overall in developing countries and 10 per cent for Africa (recent growth rates of 8 per cent have been observed in some African countries, but this is exceptional so far).

Given the commonly accepted near-term developments of population and economic growth, it is possible to project future demands for food, water, and energy.  A number of additional features have to be taken into consideration when doing this. These are detailed in the following sections, which deal with selected issues.

Continue to next section...

[ GEO-1: Home | Complete Report | Search | Feedback | Order Book | Collaborating Centres | About GEO Reports ]