Conclusions

Environmental achievements
Environmental challenges
Regional challenges

The preceding sections of this chapter show that there has been immense change in both human and environmental conditions over the past 30 years. In an unprecedented period of population increase, the environment has been heavily drawn upon to meet a multiplicity of human needs. In many areas, the state of the environment is much more fragile and degraded than it was in 1972. The result is that the world can now be categorized by four major divides:

  • The Environmental Divide - characterized by a stable or improved environment in some regions, for example Europe and North America, and a degraded environment in the other regions, mostly the developing countries;
  • The Policy Divide - characterized by two distinct dimensions involving policy development and implementation with some regions having strength in both and others still struggling in both areas;
  • The Vulnerability Gap - which is widening within society, between countries and across regions with the disadvantaged more at risk to environmental change and disasters; and
  • The Lifestyle Divide - partly a result of growing poverty and of affluence. One side of the lifestyle divide is characterized by excesses of consumption by the minority one-fifth of the world population, which is responsible for close to 90 per cent of total personal consumption; the other side by extreme poverty where 1.2 billion live on less than US$1 per day.

The four gaps are a serious threat to sustainable development. The following paragraphs highlight some of the environmental challenges facing humanity today and some of the successes that have been achieved in the past three decades.