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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK


UN warns of Earth crisis

Excessive consumption in the developed world is one cause

The United Nations is warning that time is running out to stop worldwide environmental damage and says it is already too late to prevent irreversible harm to ecosystems like tropical forests.

Global warming
The findings come in the end-of-century review of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), called Global Environment Outlook 2000, which sees a number of "full-scale emergencies" on the horizon.

These include severe water shortages that will get steadily worse, reduced agricultural productivity through the loss of topsoil, and unwanted growth of vegetation along sea-coasts and of algae at sea, caused by the heavy application of fertilisers.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: "The UN says we have no choice but to change the way we live"
GEO-2000's key finding is stark: "The continued poverty of the majority of the planet's inhabitants and excessive consumption by the minority are the two major causes of environmental degradation," says the report.

The report recommends that the developed world must cut its use of natural resources by 90% to give the rest of the world a chance of emerging from poverty.

But the destruction of tropical rainforests has already gone too far to prevent irreversible damage and it is too late to regain the planet's former bio-diversity, the report finds.

US concerns and causes

Philippa Thomas travelling with President Clinton: "Work is crucial"
US President Bill Clinton backed the report in a major speech on the impact of global warming during his visit to New Zealand.

[ image: Raising temperatures here could increase malaria in Africa]
Raising temperatures here could increase malaria in Africa
He said that without urgent action the world would be increasingly vulnerable to environmental crises, whether storms like Hurricane Floyd or intense periods of drought.

"Unless we change course, most scientists believe the seas will rise so high they will swallow whole islands and coastal areas," Mr Clinton warned.

"Diseases like malaria will be borne by mosquitoes to higher and higher altitudes and across borders, threatening more lives, a phenomenon we already see today in Africa."

He called on people to realise that it is no longer necessary to burn up the atmosphere to build economies on oil and coal to create economic opportunity.

But the president had to acknowledge that his country was the main offender, producing more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world.

Small victories

Marion Cheatle, Report author: "We can all play a major role"
GEO-2000 says there have been some successes, notably in protecting the layer of ozone which protects the earth from the sun's radiation.

However, despite international agreement on the need to reduce the production of greenhouse gases, the report considers further disruptive climate change inevitable.

UNEP says better international co-operation, improved education and the participation of large trans-national companies in conserving resources are essential to tackle the environmental crisis facing the world.

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