Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) Part IV

Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) Part IV

Water quality : Globally, polluted water continues to be the single most important cause of illness and death . Pollution as a result of poor sanitation, incorrect treatment of wastewater and animal manure is a major concern. 3 million people die of water-related diseases annually in developing countries, mostly children under the age of five. At present, about 2.5 billion people lack sufficiently good sanitary conditions. Better sanitation alone could have reduced such deaths by up to 60 per cent and cases of diarrhea by up to 40 per cent. At the same time, many man – years are lost as a result of water – related diseases – more than 60 million man – years in 2005.

Aquatic ecosystems: Many marine and coastal ecosystems and most freshwater systems are becoming more and more destroyed and thus also the ecological “services” they provide humans with. Loss of wetland area has changed the flume pattern, increased the flume frequency and reduced the habitat for animals. Species extinction occurs faster for species living in freshwater or marine environments than for species in other ecosystems. Transmission of emerging species has destroyed many freshwater and coastal ecosystems. Increasing understanding of the economic value of the “services” provided by aquatic ecosystems – such as water purification, nutrient cycles, flume control, habitat – is important to more easily incorporate such elements into development planning and decisions.

Fish stocks : Fish stocks – both in saltwater and freshwater – are declining as a result of overfishing, environmental degradation and global climate change. The total catch of marine fish is maintained only by fishing further and further out or deeper down. The decline is a major factor in the loss of biodiversity and has serious consequences for our welfare.

7: Biological diversity

According to PROEXCHANGERATES, biodiversity means the full range of life on earth. It includes diversity at the genetic level, species diversity and diversity in terms of ecosystem and habitat. Ecosystems vary greatly both in terms of size and composition. We find everything from small microbial communities in a drop of water to the entire rainforest system in the Amazon. Both humans and the many millions of other species are dependent on the health of ecosystems.

Diversity status : Less than 10 percent of the world’s known species have so far been mapped. This illustrates how little we know about the condition of the species. Of these, more than 16,000 species are threatened with extinction.

  • Species extinction occurs 100 times faster today than we can read from fossil analyzes – that is, the earliest times.
  • The tropical rainforest contains by far the most endangered species. This is followed by tropical dry forest, grassland in the mountain area and shrub landscape.
  • The number of endangered species in the freshwater system is little known, but these are generally more endangered than land-based species.
  • The number of endangered species in the deep-water area has so far not been mapped, but is estimated at approx. 10 million.

Increasing pressure: The pressure on biodiversity is expected to increase further with a world population estimated to reach 8 billion by the year 2025. Humans affect the world’s ecosystem – both on land and in water – to an unknown degree. We have little knowledge of how this will affect ecosystems in the future. The figures below show how species diversity is affected by population growth:

  • 20–50 per cent of more than half of the world’s 14 central land-based ecosystems have already been converted to cultivated land.
  • About 60 percent of the largest rivers in the world have been cut up through dams and canals.
  • Of approx. 270,000 known plant species are 10,000–15,000 to eat, and about 7,000 of them are useful in agriculture. The loss of genetic diversity in agriculture over the last 20 years can have serious consequences for the world’s food security.

Challenges and opportunities: Meeting increasing global food needs will increase environmental challenges. Either agricultural production must increase or the cultivated area must be expanded. In Brazil, the area is used to grow soy beans (most of which are exported to China), increased from 117 000 km2 in 1994 to 210 000 km 2 in 2003.

The rapid increase in the demand for energy has profound effects on biodiversity. Exploration for oil and gas, construction of oil and gas pipelines, extraction of uranium and coal, construction of dams for hydropower, hoarding of fuel, and increasingly biofuels, can lead to significant losses of biological diversity.

The total production of biofuels in the world is expected to increase fivefold – from 20 million tonnes of oil equivalents in 2005 to 92 million in 2030.

Loss of genetic variation, overpopulation and fragmented habitat make us more vulnerable to disease outbreaks. Biological diversity is the basis for many a cure. In 2002–2003, 80 per cent of all new medicines could be traced back to natural products.

8: Very slow in the right direction

The development has become somewhat more sustainable since “Our common future” was launched in 1987. Intergovernmental cooperation on the environment and development has increased. Several intergovernmental agreements have been signed with the aim of counteracting environmental challenges – both locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. An increasing number of scientific reports have contributed to a greater understanding of the environmental challenges.

Despite positive features within environmental management and a greater understanding of the links between environment and development, the real progress towards sustainable development has been slow. Development strategies often overlook the need to take care of vital services from ecosystems – services on which long-term development depends. Action has so far been limited to issues such as climate change, pollution, fisheries management and biodiversity.

Global Environment Outlook 4