U.N. Issues Grim Pre-Summit Report on Environment
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U.N. ISSUES GRIM PRE-SUMMIT REPORT ON ENVIRONMENT
By Elizabeth Shogren
August 14, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Two weeks before a global environmental summit, the United
Nations painted a dismal picture Tuesday of the world's ecological
condition, with fresh water and forests becoming scarcer and air pollution
and global sea levels rising.
Organizers of the event, which will draw more than 100 heads of state -- but
not, as of now, President Bush -- to Johannesburg, South Africa, hope these
grim facts will help inspire action by summit participants.
The goal of this summit is to create partnerships among the participants and
tangible solutions to promote sustainable development worldwide.
"There is a real sense of urgency," Nitin Desai, the secretary-general of
the summit, said Tuesday as he released the report.
Some of the information in the report substantiates well-known trends, but
some is surprising. Desai said organizers were shocked to learn that 3
million people -- from Mexico to Tanzania to India -- die annually because
of air pollution.
"If you had a disease killing 3 million people a year, you would treat it as
an emergency that needed an urgent response," Desai said.
Most of the victims are women and children who contract acute respiratory
infections because of indoor air pollution that comes from burning wood or
animal manure, the study found. Yet most control efforts are aimed at
Participants in the summit, including the United States, which may be
represented by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, are hoping to craft
strategies for attacking this problem and others highlighted by the report.
More than 1 billion people -- one-sixth of the world's population -- still
lack access to safe water, the report says. Most of them live in Asia and
The forested areas of the world shrank by 2.4% in the 1990s. Africa took the
hardest hit, losing 7% of its forests. Deforestation slowed in Asia, from
more than 8% during the 1980s to less than 1% during the 1990s. There was a
slight increase of forested areas in developed countries, as a result of
regulatory pressure and social activism.
On the positive side, poverty and hunger declined in developing countries
during the last decade. The number of chronically undernourished people
decreased by 40 million to 800 million over that period.
Most of the bleak statistics in the report focus on the challenges to
sustainable development in the developing world. But in the developed world,
growing energy consumption presents its own challenges, the report says.
While Eastern Europe's use of energy dropped and Western Europe's stayed
steady over the last decade, North America's consumption grew.
North America's emissions of carbon dioxide also increased during the
period, while Japan's held steady and Europe's decreased.
Americans are expected to continue to produce more than their share of
carbon dioxide, which scientists believe contributes to global warming. Bush
has pulled the U.S. out of the international accord on global warming, and
his plans for addressing the problem allow increased emissions.
Most of Bush's counterparts in the world's other economic powerhouses, as
well as many Third World leaders, plan to attend the Johannesburg summit.
Although the White House has yet to announce its delegation, Powell has
indicated that he hopes to attend.
The summit's U.N. sponsors did not criticize Bush's decision to not attend,
but environmental activists and others said the White House was missing an
important opportunity to show that it cares about boosting living standards
around the world -- and potentially improve its image.
The U.S. government is actively involved in efforts ranging from providing
safe water to growing crops with greater yields, said James L. Connaughton,
who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Its partners in the effort include other industrialized countries,
developing nations, private companies and nongovernmental groups.
"You're going to see all of those groups coming together to leverage both
resources and technical know-how to advance each of these goals,"
He stressed that Bush was firmly committed to a results-oriented approach to
attacking the world's worst environmental and health problems. The president
helped launch this approach in March at a meeting of world leaders in
Monterrey, Mexico, pledging to increase foreign aid by 50% to $15 billion
annually by 2006.
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