Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 4: Looking to the Future

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Pressures on Natural Habitats

Regional Summary

Africa's current natural habitat is projected to be at risk in terms of both quantity and quality. A large portion of the non-domesticated area, especially forests and grassland/savannah, are projected to be converted to agricultural land, implying a decrease in non-domesticated area from the current 70 per cent to about 55 per cent in 2015 and 45 per cent in 2050. Grassland/savannah (mainly non-domesticated open rangeland) would largely be converted to permanent pasture (which is domesticated area). Forests would to a great extent disappear. The remaining non-domesticated area would be largely arid and semi-arid land.

Pressure on Africa's remaining non-domesticated area will on average nearly double in intensity. Climate change is the dominant one of the four considered pressures. The area used for extensive grazing will also double, putting extra pressure on the remaining non-domesticated area.

The current natural habitat in West Asia is projected to be at risk, both in terms of quantity and quality. The non-domesticated area is expected to decrease from the current 90 per cent to about 75 per cent in 2015 and then to 70 per cent in 2050. Grassland/savannah (so far, mainly non-domesticated open rangeland) will be converted largely to permanent pasture (domesticated area). The remaining non-domesticated area will be to a great extent arid and semi-arid land.

Pressure on the remaining non-domesticated area in West Asia will on average double in intensity. Population density and, to a lesser extent, climate change are the dominant pressures. Moreover, the area used for extensive grazing will increase by one third (from about 30 per cent to 38 per cent in 2015 and 40 per cent in 2050), adding to the pressure on the non-domesticated area.

Natural habitat in Asia and the Pacific region is projected to be at risk, since the non-domesticated area is expected to decrease from the current 60 per cent to around 50 per cent in 2015, although it would then increase slightly to 55 per cent in 2050, mainly due to expansion and subsequent regression of arable land. By 2015, the forest area would be reduced from the current 12 per cent to about 7 per cent of the total area, which is one fifth of the 35 per cent forested land in 1700 (Richards, 1990). (The figure for 1700 is differently defined and not entirely comparable with those used for present and future forested area.) The remaining non-domesticated area will be less suitable for human settlement and agriculture because it is largely in mountainous areas or arid or semi-arid zones.

In many Asian countries, the area of agricultural land is currently fairly stable. Continuing economic and population growth would lead to higher demands for food that would be met primarily by intensification of agriculture, as well as by increasing imports and further land conversions. Better results in terms of intensification or increased imports would lead to lower conversions of land. Pressure on the remaining non-domesticated area in Asia and the Pacific will increase by 50 per cent on average. Climate change and, to a lesser extent, population density are the dominant pressures. The extensive grassland area, used for grazing, will increase 25 per cent, pressuring the remaining non-domesticated area further.

In Europe and the former USSR, natural habitat is projected to be at risk, especially due to climate change. The non-domesticated area is expected to be fairly stable until 2015, and then to decrease slightly from the current 75 per cent to around 70 per cent in 2050, mainly due to an increase in food exports from Europe. The non-domesticated area is to a large extent situated in the boreal and subpolar areas in the former USSR and the Nordic countries. Pressure on the non-domesticated area will on average almost double in intensity. Climate change is the dominant pressure.

Current natural habitat in Latin America and the Caribbean is at relatively moderate risk in comparison with Asia and Africa because of the comparatively low population pressure and the projected increase in agricultural production through intensification. The non-domesticated area is projected to decrease from 70 per cent to some 65 per cent in 2015 and to 60 per cent in 2050. This decrease is mainly at the expense of forest and grassland/savannah.

Pressure on the remaining non-domesticated area in this region is expected to double in intensity, although the current pressure is relatively low. Climate change and, to a lesser extent, population density are the dominant pressures. Climate change will particularly affect the temperate zones.

North America's natural habitat is at risk, according to this study, due to climate change and the associated spatial shift in land use. The non-domesticated area fluctuates only a few percentage points around 80 per cent from 1990 to 2050. Nevertheless, it is expected to shift considerably from the east to the midlands due to climate change. The forested areas in the east are expected to be converted into arable land, while the arable land in the north-west will be reconverted into extensively used grassland. In 2050, the greater part of the non-domesticated area could be situated in the mountainous West, the dry midlands, and the boreal and subpolar North. Following a pattern comparable to  Europe and the former USSR, pressure on the remaining non-domesticated area will on average double in intensity, largely due to climate change.

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