Press releases

Saturday 16 Oct 1999

"World population growth is one of the most important ecological problems facing the planet today"

Nairobi, 14 October 1999 - "The birth of a baby in Sarajevo this week signalled a symbolically critical moment in human history. With the birth of this child, the world population touched the six billion mark.

The world in which this child was born, like many other babies in other parts of the world born around the same time, is a world characterized by increasing stresses on the basis of our existence - our environment.

Some of the most convincing proof of this is in the Global Environment Outlook report (GEO-2000), launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) a few weeks ago. The report also delineates the linkages between population growth through its impact on the economy, the environment and safety and health, and the habitability of the world our children will inhabit.

GEO-2000, shows that almost half of these six billion people will live in urban areas. And, although rates of urban growth are slowing down, we are still adding 60 million more people to cities every year. The effects of population growth can also be seen in the number of motor vehicles which have risen from 40 million to 680 million.

Population growth can also be seen in full-scale emergencies that now exist on a number of issues. Severe water shortages already exist in many parts of the world. About 20 per cent of the human population already lacks access to safe drinking water and 50 per cent have no access to a safe sanitation system. Land degradation has reduced fertility thus adding to the difficulties of producing enough food. 80 per cent of the original forest cover of the earth has already been cleared, fragmented or degraded. This has resulted in the loss or extinction of many of the planet's species. The widespread use and ubiquitous occurrence of toxic and hazardous chemicals poses an increasing threat to human and ecosystem health.

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have reached their highest levels for 160,000 years. Indications are that it is too late to prevent global warming and that many of the targets agreed in the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may not be met.

Alongside, environmental disasters are increasing in frequency and severity. About 3 million people have perished from natural disasters in the last three decades and huge economic losses have been incurred. Also gaining more attention is another population - environment nexus which can be seen in the growth of environmental refugees around the world, who are forced to exploit their immediate environment, whether it is suitable or not, for their very survival.

It is clear that world population growth is one of the most important ecological problems facing the planet today and in the future. Few will argue with the fact that for any nation - or the world as a whole - population growth is directly linked to both economic development and stresses on the natural environment.

Broad based provision of basic health, sanitation, clean water and support to communities for managing their natural resources and environment and for securing sustainable livelihoods are of vital importance. Community-level action to protect and improve the environment through conservation and harvesting of water, sanitation and waste management, planting of trees for fodder, fuel wood, biodiversity conservation are also important.

But, we cannot speak of the population growth in the developing world without referring to the unsustainable levels of consumption and production in the developed countries. The consumer society in the developed world can no longer avoid confronting industrial inefficiencies which lead to environmental degradation.

On this day, let us recognize that a stabilized population is an essential element of environmental sustainability at local, national and global levels. Let us also remember that sustainable natural resource productivity and better environmental health and services are the key elements of an integrated approach to societies' population and development goals.

*****

For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information Branch,
Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel.: (254- 2) 623292; Fax: 623692;
Email: tore.brevik@unep.org

UNEP News Release 1999/113

Saturday 16 Oct 1999
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