The speed at which mankind has used the Earth's resources over the past 20 years has put “humanity's very survival" at risk, a study involving 1,400 scientists has concluded.
The environmental audit, for the United Nations, found that each person in the world now requires a third more land to supply his or her needs than the Earth can supply.
Thirty per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are under threat of extinction, while one in ten of the world's major rivers runs dry every year before it reaches the sea.
The bleak verdict on the environment was issued as an “urgent call for action" by the United Nations Environment Programme, which said that the “point of no return" was fast approaching.
The report was drafted and researched by almost 400 scientists, all experts in their fields, whose findings were subjected to review by another 1,000 of their peers.
Scientists conducting the review, 157 of whom were nominated by 48 governments, were split into groups of expertise for each of the ten chapters of the report. Other experts were selected from more than 50 research centres in 47 countries.
Marion Cheatle, of the programme, said that damage sustained to the environment was of fundamental economic concern, and if unchecked would affect growth. The report assessed the impact on the environment since 1987.
Climate change was identified as one of the most pressing problems but the condition of fresh water supplies, agricultural land and biodiversity were considered to be of equal concern.
The Earth audit
- The world's population has grown by 34% to 6.7 billion in 20 years
- Annual income per head has grown by 40% to US$8,162
- 73,000km2 of forest is lost across the world each year ”“ 3.5 times the size of Wales
- 75,000 people a year are killed by natural disasters
- Three million die of water-related diseases
- Ten million children under 10 die
- Farmers produce 39% more from their land than in the 1980s
- 60 per cent of the world's major rivers have been dammed or diverted
- Populations of freshwater fish have declined by 50 per cent in 20 years
- More than half of all cities exceed WHO pollution guidelines
Source: Global Environment Output 2007