'North American consumption rates are hurting the global environment'

Posted: 22 August 2002

The United States' and Canada's success in improving their local environments has come at the expense of global natural resources and climate, says a report released by leading environment organisations.

The report cites the two countries' success in stabilizing desertification and the reduction by as much as 71 per cent of toxic chemicals discharged into the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater system. Between 11 and 13 per cent of the two countries' land area are now set aside as parks and other protected areas. Wetland losses have slowed considerably, with over 70 per cent of Canada's wetland resources covered by federal and provincial wetland policies.

Sulphur dioxide emissions in the US have declined by 31 per cent from 1981-2000. Both countries reduced non-essential chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) consumption to nearly zero by 1996, thereby protecting the world's ozone layer.

However, the report stressed that Canada and the US still face serious challenges before North America is on a sustainable development path. Soil and wetland losses still outpace the gains and although withdrawal rates have declined, the region's aquifers are still being depleted.

The report urges Canada and the US to accept more responsibility for the environmental changes they are causing. Among others, 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.

Each Canadian and American consumes nine times more gasoline than any other person in the world. With only about 5 per cent of the world's population, both countries accounted for 25.8 per cent of global emissions of heat-causing carbon dioxide.

"While Canada and the United States has had notable success in resolving a lot of environ-mental 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 report, North America's Environment: A Thirty-Year State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective, is published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), and the Commission for Environmental Co-operation of the North American Agreement on Environmental Co-operation.

Copies of the report are available from the World Resources Institute and UNEP - North America.