Chapter Five: Outlook and Recommendations
- Outlook for the 21st century
Time is running out
There used to be a long time horizon for undertaking major environmental policy initiatives. Now time for a rational, well-planned transition to a sustainable system is running out fast. In some areas, it has already run out: there is no doubt that it is too late to make an easy transition to sustainability for many of the issues discussed in Chapter 2 of this publication. Full-scale emergencies now exist on a number of issues. For example:
- The world water cycle seems unlikely to be able to cope with the demands that will be made of it in the coming decades. Severe water shortages already hamper development in many parts of the world, and the situation is deteriorating.
- Land degradation has reduced fertility and agricultural potential. Replacing lost top soil takes centuries or even millennia. These losses have negated many of the advances made through expanding agricultural areas and increasing productivity.
- Tropical forest destruction has gone too far to prevent irreversible damage. Even if current trends were reversed, it would take many generations to replace the lost forests; the cultures that have been lost with them can never be replaced.
- Many of the planet's species have already been lost or condemned to extinction because of the slow response times of both the environment and policy makers; with one-quarter of the world's mammal species now at significant risk of total extinction, it is too late to preserve all the biodiversity that our planet once had.
- Many marine fisheries have been grossly over-exploited, and their recovery will be slow. Future growth in demand for fish will have to be satisfied by aquaculture - itself a practice fraught with environmental dangers.
- More than half of the world's coral reefs are threatened by human activities, with up to 80 per cent at risk in the most populated areas. While some may yet be saved, it is too late for many others.
- Urban air pollution problems are reaching crisis dimensions in many of the megacities of the developing world, and the health of many urban dwellers has been impaired.
- Finally, the indications are that it is too late to prevent global warming as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions; in addition, many of the targets agreed on in the Kyoto Protocol may not be met.