State of the environment and policy responses, 1972-2002

Protected areas: Africa

Note: number of protected areas includes those in IUCN categories I-VI

Source: compiled from UNEP-WCMC 2001b

Regional highlights: Africa
The increasing numbers of African countries facing water stress and scarcity, and land degradation, are major environmental issues in the region. The rising costs of water treatment, food imports, medical treatment and soil conservation measures are not only increasing human vulnerability and health insecurity but are also draining African countries of their economic resources. The expansion of agriculture into marginal areas and clearance of natural habitats such as forests and wetlands has been a major driving force behind land degradation. The loss of biological resources translates into loss of economic potential and options for commercial development in the future. These negative changes, however, have been tempered by Africa's impressive wildlife conservation record, including a well-established network of protected areas and the region's commitment to multilateral environmental agreements. African countries also participate in many regional and sub-regional initiatives and programmes. Notable achievements include the 1968 African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (currently being updated) and the 1991 Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Waste within Africa.

Annual aquaculture production per capita (kg)
Source: compiled from Fishstat 2001 and United Nations Population Division 2001
Regional highlights: Asia and the Pacific
Overpopulation, poverty and lack of enforcement of policy measures have compounded environmental problems in many parts of the region. Biological resources have long been of subsistence importance, and have been increasingly exploited for trade. About three-quarters of known or suspected species extinctions have occurred on isolated islands in the region. Protected areas constitute only 5 per cent of the total area, compared to the IUCN benchmark of 10 per cent. Discharge of sewage and other wastes has heavily polluted freshwater. Sedimentation in rivers and reservoirs caused by large-scale deforestation has also resulted in big economic losses. Urbanization, industrialization and tourism, coupled with a growing coastal population, have degraded many coastal areas. More than 60 per cent of Asia's mangroves have been converted to aquaculture farms. Air pollution levels in some cities are among the highest in the world. While most environmental trends have been negative, positive changes have included improvement in governance by public authorities, growing environmental awareness and public participation, and increasing environmental awareness in industry.

SO2 emissions in EMEP countries (million tonnes/year)

Over the period 1980-98, SO2 emissions in countries that are members of the Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-Range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP) have been reduced by 56 per cent

Source: Vestreng and StÝren 2000

Regional highlights: Europe
The environmental situation is mixed: there have been some noticeable improvements over the past 30 years (for example, emissions to air); the state of biodiversity and forests has not changed greatly; and other situations have undergone marked degradation (freshwater, and some coastal and marine areas). By the 1990s, the European atmosphere had generally improved significantly. Increasing efforts to safeguard natural areas and biodiversity may signal a turnaround in species protection. Freshwater stocks are unevenly distributed, with parts of southern, western and southeastern Europe being noticeably water stressed. The health of coastal and marine areas has noticeably worsened, particularly in southern and western Europe and the Mediterranean coastline. Geographically, there has been an amelioration of some environmental problems in Western Europe, and a common (but far from universal) deterioration in Central and Eastern Europe, with recent signs of a broad recovery in many countries. The development of strong environmental policies in the European Union promises continuing progress in the area.

Urban population (percentage of total): Latin America and the Caribbean

Graph shows the high levels of urbanization in the region

Source: compiled from United Nations Population Division 2001

Regional highlights: Latin America and the Caribbean
Environmental degradation in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased over the past 30 years. The main pressures on the environment and natural resources are the rising population, increasing inequality of incomes, limited planning, especially in urban areas, and the high dependence of many economies on natural resources exploitation. More than 300 million ha of land have been degraded and almost 30 per cent of the reefs in the Caribbean are considered to be at risk. Of the more than 400 million ha of natural forest lost worldwide over the past 30 years, more than 40 per cent was in the region. Urban environmental problems, especially air pollution, water contamination and inadequate waste disposal, are having severe health impacts on people living in citites, currently 75 per cent of the population. The increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, possibly linked to climate change, is having a high human and financial cost. The poorest populations, especially urban ones, are the most vulnerable to such disasters.

Areas of concern (AOC) in the Great Lakes

In 1987, Remedial Action Plans were developed to clean up 43 areas of concern in the Great Lakes basin in both Canada and the United States

Source: EC 2000

Regional highlights: North America
North America is a major consumer of the world's natural resources and producer of its wastes, and its per capita impact on the global environment is larger than that of any other region. Resource conservation in North America has been less successful than pollution abatement, and per capita consumption has increased steadily since 1972. There has been significant progress in controlling some forms of air and water pollution and in continuing a trend to set aside protected areas. During the 1990s, North American free trade strengthened the economic ties between Canada and the United States. At the same time, regional environmental degradation led to an increased recognition of the interdependent nature of cross-border ecosystems. The two countries strengthened cooperative measures to address transboundary pollution, agreeing to more aggressive NOX emission controls, for example. They also undertook to conserve the continent's wetland habitats to protect waterfowl and other migratory species. The impact of introduced exotic species on biological diversity became of increasing environmental concern with the liberalization of trade.

Land degradation in West Asia: severity and causes (%)

Charts show the severity (percentage of total land area) and the causes (percentage of total degradation) for the region and the two subregions. Note the prevalence of wind erosion

Source: compiled from Marcoux 1996

Regional highlights: West Asia
Conservation and protection of freshwater resources is a top priority, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula where water deficits are being met mainly through exploitation of groundwater resources. Countries are developing water policies to manage water scarcity by increasing both water supply and conservation, and introducing more efficient irrigation. Land degradation and food security continue to be key environmental issues. The region's seas include some of the busiest shipping areas of the world, making the marine environment susceptible to pollution events such as oil spills. Per capita hazardous waste production is among the highest in the world due to the types of industry in the region. Air emissions from power stations, desalination plants and industrial installations are also of concern.

The Antarctic ozone hole breaks a new record

The ozone hole reached a record size in September 2000 - 28.3 million km2, three times the size of the United States. Dark blue areas denote high levels of ozone depletion

Source: NASA 2001

Regional highlights: the Polar Regions
The major environmental issues in the polar regions include the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, the long-range transport of air pollutants, warming associated with global climate change, the decline of several bird, mammal and fish species, and pollution of major rivers. In the Arctic, average yearly ozone levels in the 1990s had declined by 10 per cent from the late 1970s, increasing the risk of snow blindness and sunburn. Climate change is expected to be more extreme in the polar regions than anywhere else. Human activities are major threats to biodiversity in the Arctic. The warming trend is reducing the ice habitat for species such as the polar bear and walrus. In the Antarctic, sealing and whaling have reduced populations in the Southern Ocean. Eutrophication is a recent problem in several lakes in Scandinavia. One of the major developments in the Arctic is public opposition to dam construction, particularly in the Nordic countries. For example, in 2001 Iceland's National Planning Agency rejected plans for a hydroelectric power project that would have dammed two of the three main rivers flowing from Europe's largest glacier and destroyed an extensive wilderness.