Unless urgent action is taken to protect land worldwide, over 70 per cent of the Earth's surface could be affected by roads, mining, cities and other infrastructure developments in the next 30 years, according to a major new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Global Environment Outlook-3 report, which examines policies and environmental impacts of the past 30 years and outlines approaches for the coming three decades, says the planet is at a "crucial crossroads with the choices made today critical for the forests, oceans, rivers, mountains, wildlife and other life support systems upon which current and future generations depend."
In addition to analyzing habitat disturbance caused by poorly planned infrastructure growth, the report cautions that more than half of all people could be living in severely "water-stressed" areas by 2032 if market forces drive the globe's agenda.
On the positive side, the report predicts that the proportion of hungry people in the world appears set to fall. Under one future scenario, hunger could decline to as little as 2.5 per cent of the global population by 2032 - a figure in line with the UN Millennium Declaration goals. Concerted action involving Governments, industry and individual citizens could also deliver deep cuts in emissions of the gases linked with global warming.
In a forecasting section, the report divides possible future scenarios into two types: Market First and Sustainability First. For example, it finds that under the former scenario, emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels would reach around 16 billion ton a year by 2032. Under a Sustainability First scenario, emissions would also rise but radical shifts in behaviour allied to the vigorous introduction of more energy efficient technologies could cause global carbon dioxide emissions to fall below 8 billion ton annually by the same year.
"We can never know for certain what lies before us," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer at the report's launch in London today. "But we know enough now to see how our actions or lack of actions might shape the environment and the inhabitants of this extraordinary blue planet by 2032." He called for the necessary political courage and innovative financing to "steer a healthier, more prosperous, course for planet Earth."
Mr. Toepfer also underscored that the report was released just three months in advance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which would take place in Johannesburg, South Africa. "This is a summit for sustainable development, but it is also a summit for the environment," he said, emphasizing that "without the environment there can never be the kind of development needed to secure a fair deal for this or future generations."