Reports Find Few Countries Able to Break Link between Drive for Prosperity, Environmental Stress, as Commission on Sustainable Development Begins

6 May 2010

Reports Find Few Countries Able to Break Link between Drive for Prosperity, Environmental Stress, as Commission on Sustainable Development Begins

6 May 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Reports Find Few Countries Able to Break Link between Drive for Prosperity,

Environmental Stress, as Commission on Sustainable Development Begins

Increased globalization, urbanization and rising prosperity around the world are taking an ever greater toll on the world’s ecosystems, according to two reports issued to coincide with the opening of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

The two “Trends in Sustainable Development” reports — one focusing on sustainable consumption and production and the other on chemicals, mining, transport and waste management — find that, while globalization has helped shift resource- and energy-intensive production between countries, it has not substantially reduced the global environmental impacts of these activities.

In a review of the ecological footprint — the measure of the scale of demands which human activities place on natural systems — the reports cite three areas — biodiversity loss, interference with the nitrogen cycle and climate change — as areas of particular concern, noting with alarm that not a single country exceeded its biocapacity in 1960, whereas 24 countries are currently over that limit.

The reports say that in 2005, industrialized countries used 50 per cent of the world’s fossil energy, industrial minerals and metallic ores, while accounting for only one sixth of its population.  Moreover, the size of the rich countries’ ecological footprint has continued to grow, mostly as a result of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Only a few countries have managed to weaken the link between economic activity and resource extraction, pollution and waste generation, according to the reports.  Projected growth in population, income and wealth over the next 40 years is expected to put increasing pressure on resources.  If rising middle classes in emerging economies were to emulate the consumption patterns of rich countries, two planets would be needed by 2040, the reports add.

They also show the growing weight of the developing world, not only in the global economy but also in global chemicals production, resource extraction and use, and transport demand.  They highlight the rapid growth in automobile ownership, e-waste generation and trade as major challenges, pointing out that some countries have managed the revenues from mineral resource extraction very well while others have struggled with weak governance, missing the opportunity to invest those revenues in human development and long-term diversification.

The reports come as the Commission on Sustainable Development launches a two-year cycle focusing largely on the sustainable use and management of resources.  Its 2010 session will consist of a review of the issues, the scope of the problems and challenges, and possible solutions.  At the 2011 session, countries will look at concrete policy recommendations.  This year’s session runs from 3 to 14 May.

Other areas of progress highlighted in the reports include a range of public policies, among them ecological tax reform, sustainable public procurement, as in Argentina, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland and others.  Programmes such as LEED in the United States, PromisE in Finland, GRIHA in India have worked to promote greener standards for buildings, while the Republic of Korea, China, the United States and others have promoted energy efficiency and renewable energy through green stimulus packages.

The reports also contain examples of voluntary initiatives by private industry, non-governmental organizations and others; industry initiatives that include the Global Compact; the Ceres sustainability reporting initiative; eco-design for sustainable products; voluntary standards (global, like the International Organization for Standardization, as well as national); eco-labels (EnergyStar in the United States, the Green Label Scheme in Thailand); and peer-to-peer campaigns for behavioural change, such as the United Kingdom’s 10:10 campaign to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint by 10 per cent by 2010.

The reports can be found at

For further information, please contact Dan Shepard of the Department of Public Information, tel.: +1 212 963 9495, e-mail:, or Danielle Loff-Fernandes, tel.:  +1 212 963 3926, e-mail:

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.