20 issues to keep you awake at night

  • The global population will reach 6 billion around the time UNEP's GEO-2000 is published. Under a medium-fertility scenario, the global population is likely to peak at 8.9 billion in 50 years time. This projection assumes that all developing countries will achieve replacement fertility levels (2.1 children per woman). However, falling fertility is linked to factors such as rising income and improvements in healthcare, employment and women's education. So stable population levels cannot be taken for granted. If fertility rates exceeded the medium scenario by half a child per couple, the population figure would shoot towards 27 billion.
  • Nearly half of all people live in cities. 600 million live in shanty towns while a further 100 million are believed to be homeless. 1 billion urban residents are exposed to health-threatening levels of air pollution.
  • More than 1.3 billion people live on less than US$1 a day. A tenfold reduction in resource consumption in the industrialised countries is a necessary long-term target if adequate resources are to be released for the needs of developing countries.
  • Since World War 2, the number of vehicles on the road has risen from 40 million to 680 million. At current rates of expansion there will be 1 billion vehicles by 2025. Transport is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and urban pollution.
  • A survey of 200 scientists singled out water scarcity and climate change as the most serious environmental issues facing humanity in the 21st century. Next came deforestation and desertification.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions will raise the global temperature by between 1 and 3.5 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years*. Average sea level is expected to rise by 50cm with devastating consequences.
  • Climate change has been linked to the increasing ferocity of natural disasters. Losses from natural disasters between 1986 and 1995 were eight times higher than in the 1960s**. 3 million people have perished as a result of natural disasters in the past three decades.
  • In 1996, 25% of the world's 4630 mammals and 11% of the 9675 bird species were at significant risk of extinction. More than half the world's coral reefs are threatened by human activities. 80% of the forests that originally covered the earth have been cleared.
  • By 2025, two out of three people will live in water-stressed conditions***. Polluted water contributes to the death of 15 million children under 5 every year.
  • Malaria affects more than 500 million people in 90 countries, causing 1.5-2.7 million deaths per year. Poor sanitation in the developing world allows malaria to spread through urban areas. Climate change may enable malaria to re-emerge in Europe.
  • Global pesticide use has resulted in 3.5 million to 5 million acute poisonings a year. Nitrogen run-off from fertilisers can lead to brain damage in children.
  • Armed conflicts create refugee crises which in turn put pressure on the environment. In 1995, the number of refugees worldwide hit an all time high of 27.4 million. In 1997 it was 22.7 million. 1999 saw the problem exacerbated by the conflict in Kosovo.
  • Africa is the only continent on which poverty is expected to rise during the next century. 500 million hectares of land have been affected by soil degradation since about 1950.
  • 75% of the world's poor live in Asia. The estimated health cost of South East Asian forest fires during 1997-1998 was $US 1400 million.
  • The strongest demonstration of what unified environmental action can achieve is the global community's success in controlling damage to the ozone layer. Since 1986 global consumption of ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) has fallen from 1.1 million tonnes to 160,000 tonnes in 1996. As a direct result of this effort, the ozone layer is expected to recover to pre-1980 levels by the year 2050. Without the Montreal Protocol, which co-ordinated action on CFCs, levels of ozone-depleting substances would have been five times higher than they are today.
  • Urban noise is a problem in Europe. Around 10 million people are exposed to environmental noise levels that may cause hearing loss.
  • Most forests in eastern and southern Amazonia are subjected to severe dry seasons, particularly during El Niño events. These forests are on the edge of the rainfall regime that is necessary for them to resist fire.
  • North Americans use more per capita energy and resources than any other region. Average fuel use in 1995 was five times as high as in Europe.
  • 1.2 billion barrels of oil are spilled into the Persian Gulf annually. The region's oil-producing countries produce 2-8 times more hazardous waste per capita than the USA.
  • Private foreign investment was about US$250,000 million in 1998 compared to overseas development assistance of less than US$50,000 million. These figures underline the importance of the private sector in tackling environmental issues.

*Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. **Source: Munich Reinsurance Company *** World Meteorological Organization

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