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Sunday, January 17, 1999 Published at 05:30 GMT


Environmental change threatens economy

A sustainable future depends on ending poverty, says Worldwatch

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A respected environmental research group based in Washington DC says the natural world faces unprecedented threats to its stability.

Environment Correspondent Robert Piggott: "The report says that resources cannot cope"
In a special millennial edition of its annual state of the world report, the The Worldwatch Institute says the bright promise of the new century is clouded by environmental degradation and resource depletion.

It calls for the world to shift to a more sustainable model of development which could eventually create some of the new century's largest investment opportunities.

[ image: Global fish catches are unlikely to increase]
Global fish catches are unlikely to increase
The world's population grew this century by more than four billion people - three times more than those alive in 1900.

In the same period, the use of energy and raw materials grew by more than ten times.

The report singles out some of the most urgent problems the institute has identified:

  • although world energy needs are projected to double in the next few decades, there seems no likelihood of oil production also doubling
  • protein demand is expected to double in the next century. But production of fish, a major protein source, has reached a plateau. Eleven of the 15 most important oceanic fisheries and 70% of the main fish species are now at the limits of exploitation, or beyond
  • the world's forests are facing increasing damage and stress
  • biodiversity is under siege. Extinction faces 14% of the 242,000 plant species surveyed by the World Conservation Union in 1997
  • scientists' warnings that global temperatures would rise in step with carbon dioxide concentrations are being proved correct. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are the highest for 160,000 years, and still rising
  • in several African countries, including Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, 20 to 25% of adults are now HIV-positive.

Dr Lester Brown, president of the Worldwatch Institute, said: "We are entering a new century with an economy that cannot take us where we want to go.

"Satisfying the projected needs of eight billion or more people with the economy we now have is simply not possible.

"The western industrial model - the fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that so dramatically raised living standards in this century - is in trouble."

Dr Brown urged a change to an environmentally sustainable economy, based on renewable energy and renewable products.

[ image: Two wheels good in the sustainable future]
Two wheels good in the sustainable future
A sustainable economy, he said, would be solar-powered, would re-use and recycle materials, and would rely for transport on bicycles and trains.

And unless rich people tackled poverty, there could be no sustainable future.

"Meeting the needs of the more than one billion people now in poverty is essential to making the transition to an environmentally sustainable world economy," he stressed.

Co-author Christopher Flavin said: "Just as the 19th century was marked by the abolition of slavery and the 20th by a new international principle of human rights, the 21st century will require a new ethic of sustainability".

Urging the adoption of fiscal measures to speed the change to sustainability, the report advocates using taxes to discourage pollution and wasteful energy use.

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