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Outlook Grim For World's Environment Says UN

Source: Yahoo

15th Sep 1999

GENEVA AFP - The United Nations warned Wednesday that the world's environment was facing catastrophic damage as the new millennium nears, ranging from irreversible destruction to tropical rainforests to choking air pollution and a threat to the polar ice caps. In a lengthy report, the UN Environment Programme painted a grim tableau for the planet's citizens in the next millennium, saying time was fast running out to devise a policy of sustainable human development. And for some fragile eco-systems and vulnerable species, it is already too late, warns the report, called GEO-2000. "Tropical forest destruction has gone too far to prevent irreversible damage. It would take many generations to replace the lost forests, and the cultures that have been lost with them can never be replaced," it warns. "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; it is too late to preserve all the bio-diversity the planet had." Sounding the alarm, the UNEP said the planet now faced "full-scale emergencies" on several fronts, including these: -- it is probably too late to prevent global warming, a phenomenon whereby exhaust gases and other emissions will raise the temperature of the planet and wreak climate change. Indeed, many of the targets to reduce or stabilise emissions will not be met, the report says. -- urban air pollution problems are reaching "crisis dimensions" in the developing world's mega-cities, inflicting damage to the health of their inhabitants. -- the seas are being "grossly over-exploited" and even with strenuous efforts will take a long time to recover. -- water resources are being degraded and the land is suffering from reduced fertility, mainly as a result of overuse of pesticides, herbicides and intensive farming. Adding to the strain on resources is the world's population growth. Over the next half-century, the population is expected to grow from six billion to nine billion. The UN experts say the causes of the dramatic worsening of the environmental outlook are complex, but the most obvious source is the gap between rich and poor countries. "The modern industrial economies of North America, Europe and parts of East Asia consume immense quantities of energy and raw materials, and produce high volumes of wastes and polluting emissions," the report says. "The magnitude of this economic activity is causing environmental damage on a global scale and widespread pollution of ecosystems." As for developing countries, "poverty combined with rapid population growth is leading to widespread degradation of renewable resources -- primarily forests, soils and water." US President Bill Clinton, speaking in New Zealand, echoed the appeal about global warming, saying rising planetary temperatures could melt the polar ice caps. "Unless we change course, most scientists believe the seas will rise so high that they will swallow whole islands and coastal areas," Clinton said in a speech at the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. "Storms, like hurricanes, and droughts, will intensify. Diseases like malaria will be borne by mosquitoes to higher and higher altitude and across borders, threatening more lives -- a phenomenon we already see today in Africa." GEO-2000 says the picture is not entirely gloomy. It praised growing awareness about the environment that is forcing governments in many countries to make policy changes. It also notes that the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from damaging ultra-violet rays, is expected to recover within half a century, thanks to the effort to curb aerosol gases. And in parts of Europe and North America, deforestation has been halted and reversed. The report issues an array of recommendations for speedy action, including better international cooperation and education and involvement by the private sector, particularly large international companies, in conservation efforts. It also calls for cuts in "environmentally-damaging subsidies" to farmers and others, but "without causing social and economic hardship."

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