The Global Environment Outlook: An Overview

A list of continents and the major environmental issues in those areas.

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  • Half a billion hectares of African land are moderately to severely degraded.
  • African forests are the most depleted of all the tropical regions, with only 30% of historical stands remaining.
  • African savannahs are the richest grasslands in the world, supporting many indigenous plants and animals, including the world's greatest concentration of large mammals.
  • Africa has 19 of the 25 countries that have the highest percentage of populations without access to drinking water.
  • For many countries, particularly in West Africa, fish is the main source of protein.
  • Asia and the Pacific
  • Asian timber reserves may last for no more than a further 40 years.
  • Rapid growth in energy demand has led to a significant increase in air pollution. Acidification is also an emerging problem.
  • Some 70% of the waste discharged into the Pacific receives no treatment.
  • The disposal of liquid and solid wastes is increasingly problematic in a region with such high population density.
  • The largest portion of the world's land affected by soil degradation is in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Asia, West
  • West Asia lost 11% of its remaining natural forest during the 1980s.
  • Many countries in West Asia suffer from water scarcity, with Bahrain having less than 18% of the minimum threshold; yet, levels of water consumption are now very high, ranging from 300 to 1,500 litres a day per capita.
  • Some 1.2 million barrels of oil are spilled into the Persian Gulf annually.
  • The region's coastal zone, an invaluable economic resource for development and tourism, is one of the most fragile and endangered ecosystems in the world.
  • Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States
  • Emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides are largely responsible for the 30–50% of the forests that are damaged or dying in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Europe has added 10 million hectares of protected areas since 1982, but 52% of its fish, 45% of its reptiles, and 42% of its mammals are under threat.
  • Groundwater is overexploited near 60% of Europe's industrial and urban centers.
  • Europe contributes 36% of world chlorofluorocarbon emissions, 30% of carbon dioxide emissions, and 25% of sulphur dioxide emissions; air quality is the top environmental priority for countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • The average European produces 150 to 600 kilograms of municipal waste a year—but this has led to the adoption of alternative methods of waste disposal, cleaner production technologies, and more recycling.
  • Latin America
  • Five of the 10 most species-rich countries in the world are in Latin America, but biodiversity in the region is highly threatened—with an estimated potential loss of at least 100,000 species from forested areas alone over the next 40 years.
  • Some 47% of the region's grazing lands have lost their soil fertility as a result of erosion, overgrazing, salinization, and alkalinization.
  • Large quantities of agricultural and other contaminants are discharged to streams that flow into the Caribbean, resulting in pollution from phosphorus, nitrates, and pesticides.
  • Many Caribbean beaches now have average tar levels 10 times higher than those estimated to adversely affect the use of beaches by tourists.
  • Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay experience the effects of increased ultraviolet-B radiation due to ozone depletion more acutely than any other inhabited region.
  • North America
  • In 1996 in the United States, 728 species were endangered or threatened; in Canada, 254 species were endangered or threatened, and a further 21 species were already nationally or globally extinct.
  • North American households use twice as much water as European households, but pay half as much for it.
  • 2.4 million rural Americans are badly in need of a source of safe drinking water; 1 million are without piped water at all; and supplies to a further 5.6 million do not meet safe drinking water standards.
  • Declining fish stocks have resulted in the collapse of East Coast fisheries, with a devastating impact on people living in the area, especially in the Canadian Maritime Provinces.
  • Throughout North America, urban centers are having increasing problems finding sites for new landfills; as a result, campaigns to save resources, encourage recycling, and separate wastes have led to stricter rules in some communities.
  • Polar Regions: The Arctic and the Antarctic
  • Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has made a positive contribution to the sea-level rise of 10–25 cm. observed over the past 100 years.
  • In 1995, the Arctic contained 285 protected areas covering 2.1 million km.
  • If the Antarctic ice sheet melted, it would produce a sea-level rise of at least 60 meters.
  • The Antarctic ozone hole is expected to remain for many more decades.
  • Source: United Nations Environment Program, 1997.
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