Friday, November 16, 2007

Urban sprawl may eat up countryside by 2100

Urban growth and the development of roads and airports could swallow up what is left of England's undisturbed countryside by the end of the century, campaigners have warned.

Already 50 per cent of the land in England is disturbed by noise, light and spoiled views from urban areas and major infrastructure, according to maps published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

If development continues at current rates, an area of undisturbed countryside the size of Greater London will be affected by urban intrusion every two years.

The South East is all but disappearing under development, with 70 per cent of the region affected and the remaining 30 per cent set to be blighted in just 45 years under current rates of growth, say the CPRE.

The region has lost 840 square miles of undisturbed land since the 1990s - an area larger than the county of West Sussex, according to their maps.

Since the early 1960s, the amount of land across England which is disturbed by noise and visual intrusion has doubled, up from 26 per cent to 50 per cent, the maps show.

More than 12,350 square miles have been blighted since the 1960s and the rest could be affected within 80 years at current rates, according to the CPRE's maps, drawn by Land Use Consultants.

Developments on green field sites cause noise and light in the surrounding countryside, while new roads slice up the landscape and disturb wildlife.

Aviation blights the skies above English landscapes with noise, say the campaigners.

Each year since the early 1990s, another 320 square miles has become overshadowed by urban development, say CPRE. This adds up to the area of Greater London every two years.

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE, said: “It is often said that development will take up a small percentage of England's total land surface. But development of all kinds fragments the countryside, undermining the qualities of tranquility, openness and immersion in the rural landscape which people most value about it.”

"An area will no longer be experienced as truly rural long before half its surface is developed ...undisturbed countryside will become a distant memory in their lifetimes.”

In pictures - UK urban sprawl

State of the planet - in graphics

Globally human populations are growing, trade is increasing, and living standards are rising for many. But, according to the UN's latest Global Environment Outlook report, long-term problems including climate change, pollution, access to clean water, and the threat of mass extinctions are being met with "a remarkable lack of urgency".

Over the last 20 years, the human population has increased by a third, global trade has tripled, and per capita income has gone up by 40%. Annual emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, have also increased by one third.

As the human population grows it has reached the point, the UN says, "where the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available".

Sixteen thousand species are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss is a major factor as many forests are cleared for agriculture. The UN estimates the global annual loss of primary forest is 50,000 km2.

The availability of fresh water will decline, according to the UN, who project that by 2025 1.8bn people will be affected by water scarcity. Sanitation is also a major issue, as contaminated water is the greatest single cause of human disease and death. The state of the world's fisheries is also touched on by the report which says many fish stocks are overexploited, while the demand for fish is expected to rise alongside growing populations.

By the end of 2007 it is estimated that more people will live in cities than rural areas for the first time in history. The satellite image of the US city of Las Vegas (left) shows how rapidly metropolitan areas can grow. The city was home to 557,000 people in 1985, by 2004 this had risen to nearly 1.7 million. This rapid growth can put pressure on water resources and infrastructure.

State of the planet, in graphics

Global environmental outlook

IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' warming

Climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts, the UN's climate advisory panel is set to announce.

Among its top-line conclusions are that climate change is "unequivocal", that humankind's emissions of greenhouse gases are more than 90% likely to be the main cause, and that impacts can be reduced at reasonable cost.

The synthesis summary strengthens the language of earlier reports with a warning that climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts. Such impacts could include the fast melting of glaciers and species extinctions.

Probable temperature rise between 1.8C and 4C
Possible temperature rise between 1.1C and 6.4C
Sea level most likely to rise by 28-43cm
Arctic summer sea ice disappears in second half of century
Increase in heatwaves very likely
Increase in tropical storm intensity likely

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Climate Change 2007

Planet's Touger Problems Persist, UN reports warns

The United Nations Environment Programme says that major threats to the planet such as climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the many that remain unresolved, and all of them put humanity at risk.

GEO-4 , the latest in UNEP ’s series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 90 experts and eviewed by more than 1-00 thers across the world.

GEO-4 warns that we are living far beyond our means. The human population is now so large that “the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available.... humanity ’s footprint [its environmental demand ] is 21.99 hectares per person while the arth ’s biological capacity is, on average, only 15.77 ha/person.....

GEO-4 is available here

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