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Fact Sheet: Ensuring Environmental Sustainability at the National Level

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While per capita GDP growth in developing countries has contributed strongly to poverty reduction, the long-term effects of natural resource depletion and environmental degradation on both growth and poverty remain a serious concern.

Arrow Progress in institutional and policy performance toward ensuring environmental sustainability has been uneven, with Europe & Central Asia making the strongest headway, and South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa lagging behind. 

Grow first and clean up later?
Industrial smokestackCan developing countries afford good environmental policies? It has often been argued that they should “grow first and clean up later” – the so-called Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) where emissions initially rise with income and then start to decline when countries are wealthy enough to wish to invest in environmental quality. However, recent research by Dasgupta and others (2006) shows that a good institutional framework for the environment is not only possible but may improve the quality of growth. Poor countries can in fact have good policies and need not be heavily polluted, they observe. 
How sustainable development underpins the Millennium Development Goals 

Achieving environmental sustainability underpins progress on many of the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If forests are lost, soils degraded, and water and air polluted, achievements in poverty reduction may not be sustainable.

green arrowNatural resources are a major source of income, especially in very poor countries. In some rural areas, they contribute over 40 percent of household income. Being dependent on natural resources makes people vulnerable to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) estimated that climate change will increase the world’s undernourished people by 40-170 million by 2050. 
green arrowIn Ghana and Pakistan, water-related infections cause an annual loss in education performance equivalent to 4.9 and 4.2 percent of GDP, respectively. 
green arrowGetting clean water and energy falls mostly to women and young children, keeping women away from market-based activities and independent income, and keeping children out of school. This is a major gender equality issue. 
green arrowEnvironment health risks (e.g. lack of water and sanitation, exposure to indoor air pollution from cooking) are the main cause of child mortality and a major risk factor for maternal health. In 2006, the WHO showed that about 24 percent of global disease and 23 percent of deaths can be attributed to environmental factors. 
green arrowCoordinated international support is required for global public goods, including those related to the environment. Climate change threatens to reverse many achievements in poverty reduction, and controlling greenhouse gas emissions is a major challenge for global action going forward. 

Progress in natural resource management

Fig 6.1 - Annual deforestation - Small 
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 green arrow Net loss of forest area (2000-05) is estimated at 73,000 sq km a year (an area the size of Sierra Leone). In this period, deforestation was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (47,000 sq km) and Latin America & the Caribbean (41,000 sq km, of which 31,000 were in Brazil). Increasing forest cover in the East Asia & Pacific region (mainly due to afforestation in China) masks Indonesia’s high deforestation rate. The country lost 18,700 sq km of forest in 2000-05.
 green arrow Population growth in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) will soon cause per capita water resources to fall below critical levels. Underground water extraction is already unsustainable in parts of the Middle East and South Asia, and in Mexico. Countries such as Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Libya consume more than five times the level of annual available resources.
The sustainability of economies dependent on exhaustible resources 
Global energy demand will grow at 1.8 percent a year over the next two decades, largely driven by China and India, notes the US Energy Information Administration (EIA 2007). These energy needs will be met increasingly by coal (demand for which is expected to increase by 73 percent between 2005 and 2030). The demand for oil is expected to increase by 37 percent and gas by 17-22 percent.
For natural resource exporting countries, what matters for sustainability is that income from natural resource depletion is invested rather than consumed. 
 round bullet Extractive economies on an unsustainable path include Angola and Nigeria (low-income) and Syria, Iran, and Russia (middle-income).Refinery 
 round bullet Vietnam and Malaysia are extractive economies on a sustainable path. Their net savings and investments in education more than offset the value of natural resource depletion and environmental degradation.

Progress in pollution management 
green arrowThe concentration of outdoor suspended particulate matter has been declining since 1990, with strong progress (a 40 percent decline) in low-income countries.Fig 6.8 - Biomass products - Small
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green arrowChina tops the global list of industrial water polluters (emitting over 6 million kg a day of organic water pollutants), followed by the US (nearly 1.9 million).
green arrowLack of access to electricity forces the use of biomass fuels, which lead to indoor air pollution. In low-income countries, the share of biomass fuels in total energy use has dropped only slightly from 55 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2004. Nine of the top 10 biomass-dependent countries in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The falling value of natural capital in poor countries 
Fig 6.11 - Natural capital - Small
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 round bullet In low-income countries, the value of natural capital fell from $3,400 per capita in 1995 to $3,100 per capita in 2005. This 10 percent drop resulted from population growth, falling agricultural yields and declining real crop prices. The per capita value of agricultural land fell 31 percent in real terms over the same period.
 round bullet Agricultural land values in low-income countries are highly vulnerable to the potential impact of climate change. In Sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural land accounts for 62 percent of the total natural wealth of $3,900 per capita.
Photo credits: Arvind Balaraman, Julio Etchart |

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