World Faces Stark Choice at Rio+20, UN Report Warns
Irreversible environmental damage threatens to destabilise the world's life-support
systems unless urgent action is taken, according to the latest Global
Environment Report (GEO-5) in June 2012 which looks to the Rio+20 summit as a crucial
opportunity to halt this decline. The fifth edition of the United
Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) flagship environmental report compiles
three years of research on the state of the global environment, produced
with the collaboration of over 600 individual experts, institutions and U.N. agencies.
It documents widespread changes to the planet, citing an alarming array
of climatic events, unprecedented in human history, from floods and droughts to the extinction of species, sea level and temperature rise,
pollution and disease. GEO-5 is a sobering documentation of the state of the world's
atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, all of which are under increasing pressure from drivers of change such as population growth.
Climate change and an increasing population
Climate change and an increasing population could trigger a global food crisis
in the next half century as countries struggle for fertile land to grow crops
and rear animals, scientists warned yesterday. To keep up with the growth in human population, more food will have to be
produced worldwide over the next 50 years than has been during the past 10,000 years combined, the experts said.
But in many countries a combination of poor farming practices and deforestation
will be exacerbated by climate change to steadily degrade soil fertility,
leaving vast areas unsuitable for crops or grazing. Competition over sparse resources may lead to conflicts and environmental
destruction, the scientists fear. The warnings came as researchers from around the world convened at a UN-backed
forum in Iceland on sustainable development to address the organization's
millennium development goals to halve hunger and extreme poverty by 2015.
The researchers will use the meeting to call on countries to impose strict
farming guidelines to ensure that soils are not degraded so badly they cannot
recover. "Policy changes that result in improved conservation of soil and vegetation and
restoration of degraded land are fundamental to humanity's future livelihood," said Zafar Adeel, director of the international network on water, environment
and health at the UN University in Toronto and co-organizer of the meeting."This is an urgent task as the quality of land for food production, as well as
water storage, is fundamental to future peace. Securing food and reducing poverty ... can have a strong impact on efforts to curb the flow of people,
environmental refugees, inside countries as well as across national borders," he added.
The UN millennium ecosystem assessment ranked land degradation among the world's
greatest environmental challenges, claiming it risked destabilizing societies,
endangering food security and increasing poverty. Some 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded. Among the worst
affected regions are Central America, where 75% of land is infertile, Africa,
where a fifth of soil is degraded, and Asia, where 11% is unsuitable for farming.
The majority of soil erosion is caused by water, either through flooding or poor
irrigation, with the rest lost to winds. Farming practices such as ploughing
also damage soil, as does repeated planting in fields, which depletes the soil
of nutrients. "You can sum it up as need, greed and ignorance," said Andrew Campbell, an
Australian environmental consultant. "Some pressures on soil resources come from
simple human needs, where people don't have any option but to grow crops or farm
animals. But in other instances world markets demand produce, so farmers try to
meet those markets. And sometimes, there will be land that's cleared that should
not have been, or grazed when it shouldn't have been. All these place great pressures on soil resources."