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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 October 2007, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Natural decline 'hurting lives'
Two Indian women sitting on parched soil (Image: AP)
Droughts around the globe are affecting crops and cattle stocks
Continuing destruction of the natural world is affecting the health, wealth and well-being of people around the globe, according to a major UN report.

The Global Environment Outlook says most trends are going the wrong way.

It lists degradation of farmland, loss of forest cover, pollution, dwindling fresh water supplies and overfishing among society's environmental ills.

The UN Environment Programme (Unep) says there is a "remarkable lack of urgency" to reverse these trends.

"There continue to be persistent and intractable problems unresolved and unaddressed," said Unep's executive director Achim Steiner.

This assault on the global environment risks undermining the many advances human society has made
Ban Ki-moon,
UN Secretary General
"Past issues remain and new ones are emerging, from the rapid rise of oxygen 'dead zones' in the oceans to the resurgence of new and old diseases linked in part with environmental degradation."

Unep concludes that the well-being of millions of people in the developing world is put at risk by failure to remedy problems which have been tackled in richer societies.

Final alarm

Publication of this Global Environment Outlook (Geo-4) marks 20 years since the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), a seminal conference which put the idea of sustainable development at the heart of the UN.

Since that time, Geo-4 concludes, most environmental indicators have become more serious.

TALE OF DECLINE
There is "visible and unequivocal" evidence of the impacts of climate change
Many farming systems have reached their limits of production
Warmer temperatures and ocean acidification threaten food supplies
1.8 billion people face water shortages by 2025
Three-quarters of marine fisheries exploited to or beyond their limits
Exposure to pollutants causes 20% of disease in developing nations
Pollution being "exported" to developing world
About 60% of "ecosystem services" are degraded

Fish stocks are in a worse state, arable land (particularly in Africa) is becoming unusable, more people than ever before lack enough clean water, greenhouse gas concentrations have risen, and the loss of biodiversity is accelerating.

"This assault on the global environment risks undermining the many advances human society has made in recent decades," wrote UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in a foreword.

"It is undercutting our fight against poverty. It could even come to jeopardise international peace and security."

Geo-4's 572 pages do contain some positive conclusions, including a slowing of the rate of Amazonian deforestation, cleaner air in western Europe, and the global treaty curbing destruction of the ozone layer.

READ THE REPORT IN FULL

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But they are dwarfed by the overwhelming conclusions that overall, environmental indicators are pointing downwards, and governments are not committing enough will and resources to halt the slide.

"There have been enough wake-up calls since Brundtland," said Mr Steiner.

"I sincerely hope Geo-4 is the final one."

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