GEO: Latin America and the Caribbean: Environment outlook 2000

United Nations Environment Programme (2000)

The two major causes of global environmental degradation are the continuing poverty of the majority of the planet’s inhabitants and excessive consumption by the minority (UNEP 1999a). In Latin America and the Caribbean – as in other regions of the world – many socio-economic pressures have an impact on the environment. Poverty and inequality of income are doubtless among the leading ones. Others are unsustainable agriculture, industrial development and tourism, unplanned urbanization, demographic growth, and population density. Nevertheless, the countries in the region have important climatic, biophysical, geomorphological and socio-economic differences, and this diversity makes generalized environmental policy application difficult. Three major environmental issues stand out in the region. The first concerns the region’s urban areas: three-quarters of the population live in large cities where air quality threatens human health and water shortage is common. The second problem is the depletion and destruction of forest resources, mainly in the Amazon Basin, and the threat this implies in terms of biodiversity. The third issue relates to the possible regional impact of global climate change, as reflected in phenomena such as forest fires, natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, and the rise of sea level which threatens many coastal cities in the region and productive land on island states. During the past decade, concern for environmental issues has increased markedly and many environmental institutions and policies have been created. Nevertheless, these changes have not improved environmental stewardship significantly. Environmental management continues to concentrate on sectoral perspectives without coherent and explicit integration with economic and social strategies. The lack of financing, technology, personnel and training, and – in some cases – excessively large and complex legal frameworks, are the most common problems. Increasing environmental awareness must be reinforced through a process of environmental education and information dissemination. Economic growth of countries in the region still relies on export growth and foreign capital inflows, regardless of the consequences for the environment and with no internalization of the environmental costs of this type of policy.