OUTLOOK WORSE FOR A TROUBLED PLANET

Five years ago today The Independent devoted its front page to the crucial questions facing world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio. Nicholas Schoon examines whether any progress has been made
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HOW THE WORLD HAS CHANGED

1972

POPULATION

Population was 3.84 billion, of whom 72 per cent lived in developing countries. It was growing at 2 per cent a year.

WAR AND REFUGEES

Nations spent US $836bn on arms and armed forces. The number of refugees was estimated at 3 million.

NUCLEAR REACTORS

There were just over 100 nuclear reactors generating electricity in 15 countries. There had been no major radiation releases at commercial reactors - but two at military facilities in Britain (Windscale) and the USSR (Chelyabinsk), both in 1957.

TRANSPORT

There were 250 million motor vehicles including 200 million cars. Their pollution was confined almost entirely to developed countries

GLOBAL WARMING

Sixteen billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, the most important of the man- made climate-changing greenhouse gases, were released into the air. Atmospheric concentration was 327 parts per million

OZONE LAYER AND CHLORINE

Chlorine destroys the high-altitude ozone gas which shields the planet from harmful ultra-violet light. It comes from CFCs and other widely used industrial and agricultural chemicals. Twenty five years ago, measurement of chlorine had not yet begun, but by 1975, concentration was 1.4 parts per billion. Holes in ozone layer as yet unknown

MEGACITIES

There were just three cities with over 10 million inhabitants, two of them in developed countries. When humans are concentrated in such vast numbers, there are huge problems in dealing with their wastes, their transport needs and providing clean air and water. Thirty eight per cent of the world's population lived in towns and cities

RAINFORESTS

Up to a third of the world's girdle of tropical rainforests had been destroyed. About 0.5 per cent of the remainder were being lost each year - some 100,00 square kilometres, an area the size of Iceland.

FISHERIES

Around 58 million tonnes of fish were taken from the oceans as nations expanded deep-sea fleets. Two years later North Sea herring stocks collapsed due to overfishing.

SPECIES

There were about 2 million African elephants left, one of thousands of species known to have become endangered by humanity. A rate of extinction not seen since the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was already well under way.

WATER

A total of 2,600 cubic kilometres a year of fresh water was being used, mostly for irrigation

1997

POPULATION

Global population is 5.85 billion - 380 million more than at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, and roughly equivalent to an extra Europe in just five years. Eighty per cent now live in developing countries. Annual growth rate is just under 1.5 per cent, or 81 million extra people a year.

WAR AND REFUGEES

Global military spending is $800bn (nearly $140 for every man, woman and child) - a drastic reduction on 1992, when it was $1,173bn (all figures in 1995 prices). The number of refugees has continued to rise; five years ago it was 15 million, now it is 26 million.

NUCLEAR REACTORS

There are 443 nuclear power plants in 31 nations, a net growth of 15 since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and a further 36 are under construction. Nuclear power generates 17 per cent of the world's electricity. There have been two severe accidents involving large radiation releases - Three Mile Island in the US in 1979 and Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.

TRANSPORT

The number of cars in the world will exceed 500 million sometime this year. The great majority are still in developed countries, but more and more Third World cities now have dangerous air pollution levels caused by road traffic.

GLOBAL WARMING

Annual releases of carbon dioxide now stand at 23 billion tonnes per annum. Both developed and developing nations use more and more fossil fuels with each passing year, so the rise in atmospheric concentrations is accelerating and now stands at 364 parts per million - compared to 356 at the time of the Earth Summit.

OZONE LAYER AND CHLORINE

The concentration of chlorine in the atmosphere has more than doubled to just over 3 parts per billion. Thanks to international action to curb ozone-destroying chemicals (most of it agreed on before the 1992 Earth Summit), the chlorine concentration in the stratosphere should reach a peak by 1999 and then start to fall rapidly. But ozone holes will continue to open for decades to come. This year's Antarctic hole lasted a month longer than usual.

MEGACITIES

Forty seven per cent of the world's population now lives within an urban area and inside a few years it is expected to reach half. Five years ago, there were 13 megacities with over 10 million people. Today there are at least 18, with 13 of them in developing nations.

RAINFORESTS

Deforestation rate for the tropics from 1990 to 1995 was estimated to be 130,000 square kilometres a year, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). It is thought that one or two plant and animal species becomes extinct every hour as a result. The Brazilian National Space Academy estimated last year that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon had risen from 11,000 square kilometres to 15,000 square kilometres since the 1992 Earth Summit.

FISHERIES

After decades of steady growth, fluctuating figures for the last 10 years indicate that an upper limit for global fish catches has now been reached - or surpassed. The latest UN FAO estimate is that 90.7 million tonnes were taken in 1995, nearly 6 million tonnes more than in 1992, but less than in 1991.

SPECIES

There are now somewhere between 286,000 and 580,000 African elephants. They continue to be threatened by ivory poaching in some nations; in others where the decline has been halted elephants have come into conflict with farmers trying to protect their crops from being trampled and eaten. Globally, 168 mammal species and 168 birds are judged "critically endangered" - at very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild within a few years.

WATER

Fresh water consumption has risen by nearly two-thirds to 4,200 cubic kilometres a year - a faster rate of increase than population growth. Water supply problems are mounting all over the globe; 1.4 billion people, a quarter of humanity, lack ready access to safe drinking water.

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