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GEO Year Book 2003  
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Latin America and the Caribean

The vanishing forests
Floods, droughts and hurricanes
Retreat of continental glaciers

A number of key regional events helped to further the environmental agenda in the region. However, an ongoing challenge is still to address the growing levels of poverty and inequality, while at the same time integrating environmental and social concerns into development policy

Key Facts
  • In 2003, the number of people living in poverty was 225 million, nearly 44 per cent of the total population.
  • LAC has the world’s largest area of arable land, 576 million ha, 30 per cent of the total region. During the 1990s, profits from the region’s agricultural exports increased at an average
    annual rate of 6.4 per cent.
  • LAC lost almost 47 million ha of forests in the period 990–2000, the second largest loss after Africa.
  • T he 178 eco-regions identified in LAC contain more than 40 per cent of the world’s flora and fauna species. Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela are all considered mega-diverse countries.
  • LAC possesses more than 30 per cent of the global renewable water resources. Agriculture is the principal consumer of water in the region, accounting for 73.5 per cent of total withdrawals.
  • 60 per cent of the population live within 100 km of the coast, and coastal and marine ecosystems continue to be threatened by pollution and degradation caused mainly by growing demographic pressure and associated increase in coastal resource use. Over 60 per cent of sewage from public drainage in LAC is discharged into water bodies without treatment.
  • More than 80 million people in LAC are permanently affected by low air quality.
  • LAC is the most urbanized region in the developing world: the level of urbanization was 75.3 per cent in 2000 and is expected to reach 80.4 per cent by 2020.
  • The period 1995–2003 was the most active for Atlantic hurricanes on record, with a high social economic and environmental impact on the region, especially the highlyvulnerable
    Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean. Between 1970–2001 natural disasters killed 246 569 people, affected another 144.9 million and caused economic losses of US$68 600 million.
Sources: UNEP 2003a, FAO 200

Despite the continued economic and social crisis in many countries, the legal and institutional frameworks were maintained during the year. In November 2003, the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean identified concrete actions for the implementation of the Latin American and Caribbean Initiative for Sustainable Development (Box 1).

Box 1: Forum of Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean

The 14th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean was
held in Panama in November 2003. The Forum, created in 1982, helps coordinate environmental
activities and ensure that regional and international cooperation is efficient and coherent, targeting
the priorities of the region.
At an extraordinary meeting of the Forum held within the framework of the World Summit on
Sustainable Development, the Latin America and Caribbean Initiative for Sustainable Development
(ILAC) was approved and included in the WSSD Plan of Implementation.
The ILAC objectives include:

  • increasing the use of renewable energy sources until 10 per cent of the regional energy
    requirements are met;
  • increasing natural protected areas and forests;
  • improving the management of watersheds and marine and coastal zones;
  • adopting regulatory frameworks for access to genetic resources; and
  • implementing plans and policies to reduce urban environmental vulnerability to disasters.

ILAC has become one of the most important policy tools for promoting sustainable development in
Latin America and the Caribbean. The 14th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers reaffirmed the
importance of the initiative and adopted concrete activities to further its goals, focusing on issues
such as: access to genetic resources and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use,
water resources, human settlements, vulnerability and land use planning and laws, renewable
energies, trade and the environment, economic instruments and fiscal policy, climate change, and
environmental indicators.

Source: UNEP 2003b

Other progress in 2003 included the development of plans for biological corridors in the Andean region and the Amazon basin, the designation of new protected areas in numerous countries, as well as national legislation to enhance the role of the private sector in protected area management (Box 2).

While more state regulations have been introduced, enforcement emerges as a major problem. This is either due to an imbalance between economic and environmental goals or to the lack of adequate human and financial resources.

Box 2: Regulation for private
protected areas in Chile
New Chilean legislation introduced in 2003 provides a solid legal framework for the creation and maintenance of private parks. It promotes private investment in the protection of natural resources and biodiversity and is complementary to the existing system of public parks. With 14 million ha, the Chilean National Protected Areas System (Sistema Nacional de Areas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado,
SNASPE) covers almost 20 per cent of Chile. However, 19 of the 85 eco-regions remain unprotected and others are insufficiently protected. Private protected areas, currently covering more than 500 000 ha, could make a considerable contribution to biodiversity protection in the country. With the new regulation, the government aims at significantly expanding the current four per cent of private protected areas and providing for more continuity and coordination in the protection of priority areas.
Sources: Corcuera and others 2002, University of Chile 2003, Villarroel and others (in press)

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