What is the state of the environment?

The environment includes natural resources (fauna, flora, water, soil and minerals) and ecosystem services (crop production, energy supply and soil maintenance). These resources and services are being degraded mainly because of increasing population and consumption. By Anna Ballance

The term “environment” refers to all elements of the physical and biological world (including humans), as well as the interactions between them. These elements may be categorized as ecosystem: goods, meaning the actual natural resources themselves (flora, fauna, soil mineral, air, water), and services, including the harvestable products (crops, timber), processes essential to sustain the provision of these resources (nutrient cycles, climate patterns, flooding control) and aesthetic and cultural benefits of ecosystems (recreation).

The UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook 3 shows that the environment is deteriorating in many regions due to natural and man-made pressures. Such pressures include climate variability, rapid population growth and rising consumption trends that are leading to over-harvesting of resources, and the pollution of air, water and land (1). The report also points out that these environmental changes impact human livelihoods by reducing food security, increasing vulnerability to natural hazards and disease, and limiting opportunities for economic growth.

The report also indicates that there have been successful attempts to improve the environment during the past 30 years: including the ratification of over 150 international environmental agreements, implementation of national environmental action plans, and the establishment of environmental institutions across the public and private sectors. Furthermore, many countries currently have a ministry of environment and environmental reporting has become a standard practice from the corporate to regional level.

GEO 3 concludes that there are many challenges ahead:

  • emissions of greenhouse gases are having an increasingly detrimental impact on the atmosphere;
  • urban air pollution is a growing health concern, triggering or exacerbating respiratory and cardiac problems;
  • surface and groundwater resources are being rapidly drained;
  • many species are becoming endangered or extinct;
  • the oceans are being harvested at unsustainable rates;
  • land degradation is accelerating and intensifying, particularly in developing countries;
  • forest ecosystems are being degraded, cleared or fragmented, with the greatest losses in Africa;
  • the world’s largest cities are badly affected by inadequate housing, air and water pollution and solid waste disposal;
  • the growing frequency and intensity of natural disasters over the past 30 years has put more people, especially the poor, at greater risk.

Anna Ballance
GRID-Arendal
ballance@grida.no

1. Global Environment Outlook 3, UNEP, Earthscan publication, Nairobi, 2002.

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