North America protecting environment, but unsustainable consumption persists - UNEP

North America protecting environment, but unsustainable consumption persists - UNEP

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North America's gains in arresting environmental pollution and degradation have recently been eroded by choices related to consumption patterns, according to a report released today by the United Nations which calls on the region to accept more responsibility for protecting the natural world.

North America's Environment: A Thirty-Year State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective documents the region's success in protecting the ozone layer by reducing the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), and in controlling acid-rain causing emissions, which declined in the United States by 31 per cent between 1981 and 2000. North America has also succeeded in protecting between 11 and 13 per cent of its land area while slowing wetland losses considerably.

At the same time, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which produced the report, warns that North America has more work to do to protect its resources. "While Canada and the United States have had notable success in resolving a lot of environmental problems, progress has slowed largely due to increasing consumption by its growing population," said Brennan Van Dyke, Regional Director of UNEP's Regional Office for North America.

The region's energy consumption grew by 31 per cent between 1972 and 1997, while progress in fuel efficiency has been offset by increases in the number of automobiles and the total number of kilometres travelled, and by a trend since 1984 toward heavier and less fuel-efficient passenger vehicles.

"A consumer lifestyle based on the desire for mobility, convenience and product disposability has undercut the further advancement of resource efficiency and waste reduction," UNEP said. With about 5 per cent of the world's population, North America accounted for 25.8 per cent of global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 1998. The region's per capita annual gasoline consumption for motor vehicles was nine times the world average.

The report asserts that effective reforms are possible, and calls on North America to implement substantial changes in automobile use, adopt more fuel-efficient technologies, and carry out urban development strategies that curb sprawl.