Sat, Oct 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Consumption unsustainable: UN

TIME BOMB The human race is already consuming resources faster than the Earth can sustain, the UN report said, and an expanding population will make it worse


Environmental experts and journalists attend the launch of the United Environment Program (UNEP) GEO-4 Global Environment Outlook on Thursday at the UN complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The UN warned on Thursday that humanity is changing Earth's climate so fast that it is poised to bequeath a ravaged planet to future generations.


The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage to the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued on Thursday by the UN.

Climate change, the increased rate of extinction of species and the challenge of feeding a growing population are putting humanity at risk, the UN Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

"The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns," Achim Steiner, the executive director of the Environment Program, said in a telephone interview.

Many biologists and climate scientists have concluded that human activities have become a dominant influence on the Earth's climate and ecosystems. But there is still a range of views on whether the changes could have catastrophic impacts -- as the human population heads toward 9 billion by midcentury -- or toward manageable results.

The world population has been increasing, to 6.7 billion from 5 billion two decades ago. But the land available to each person has long been shrinking, to 2 hectares acres in 2005 from 8 hectares in 1900, the report said.

Population growth combined with unsustainable consumption has resulted in an increasingly stressed planet where natural disasters and environmental degradation endanger people, plants and animal species.

Persistent problems include a rapid rise of "dead zones," where marine life no longer can be supported because pollutants like runoff fertilizers deplete oxygen.

But Steiner said that western European governments had taken effective measures to reduce air pollutants; that Brazil had made efforts to roll back some deforestation; and that an international treaty to tackle the hole in the earth's ozone layer had led to the phasing out of 95 percent of ozone-damaging chemicals.

"Life would be easier if we didn't have the kind of population growth rates that we have at the moment," Steiner said. "But to force people to stop having children would be a simplistic answer. The more realistic, ethical and practical issue is to accelerate human well-being and make more rational use of the resources we have on this planet."

He said that parts of Africa could reach an environmental tipping point if changing rainfall patterns turned semi-arid zones into arid zones and made agriculture much harder. Another tipping point could occur in India and China, he said, if Himalayan glaciers shrank so much that they no longer supplied adequate amounts of water.

He also warned of a global collapse by 2050 of all species being fished, if fishing around the world continued at its current pace. The report said that more than twice as many fish were being caught as the oceans could produce in a sustainable manner, and that the level of fish stocks classed as collapsed had roughly doubled over the past 20 years, to 30 percent.

In the spirit of the UN report, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France outlined plans on Thursday to fight climate change.

He said he would make 1 billion euros, or US$1.4 billion, available over four years to develop energy sources and maintain biodiversity.

He said that each euro spent on nuclear research would be matched by one spent on research into clean technologies and environmental protection.

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