North American Success Comes at Global Expense

WASHINGTON, DC, August 13, 2002 (ENS) - The United States and Canada have had some success in improving local environments where their citizens can enjoy clean air and water and green space, but these improvements have come at the expense of global natural resources and climate, according to a United Nations sponsored study released today.

Published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the report was written in collaboration the World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC based environmental think tank; the International Institute for Sustainable Development headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a body established as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"North America's Environment: A Thirty-Year State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective," points out that each Canadian and American consumes nine times more gasoline than any other person in the world.


Traffic in New York City (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
The report urges Canada and the United States to accept more responsibility for the environmental changes they are causing. With only about five percent of the world's population, both countries accounted for 25.8 percent of global emissions of the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, created by the combustion of coal, oil and gas.

Both countries need "substantial and concrete changes" toward use of automobiles that rely on more fuel efficient technologies, and toward urban development strategies that curb urban sprawl, the authors suggest.

"While Canada and the U.S. 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 two countries have succeeded in stabilizing desertification and reducing by as much as 71 percent the toxic chemicals discharged into the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater system.


North shore of Lake Superior, one of the five Great Lakes (Photo by Dave Hansen courtesy Minnesota Extension Service)
Between 11 and 13 percent of the two countries' land area is now set aside as parks and protected areas. Wetland losses have slowed considerably, with over 70 percent of Canada's wetland resources covered by federal and provincial wetland policies.

Sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States have declined by 31 percent from 1981 to 2000. Both countries reduced non-essential chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) consumption to nearly zero by 1996, protecting the world's ozone layer.

Soil and wetland losses still outpace the gains, and although withdrawal rates have declined, the region's aquifers are still being depleted.

The report is being released in advance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, being held August 26 to September 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The largest gathering on environment and development in the past 10 years, it will be attended by 106 heads of state and government. U.S. President George W. Bush has not said whether or not he will attend the summit.

"Given the successes of Canada and the United States in the last 30 years, it is a surprise that President Bush himself is not attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development," said Paul Faeth, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute. "Protecting the global environment cannot be done by the United States alone, but should always be in concert with the rest of the world community."

Read the full report at: