Climate change is main barrier to development - United Nations
Climate change and destruction of the environment are the biggest threats to improving wealth and happiness around the world, according to a major United Nations report.
The annual Human Development report from the UN found that on the whole most of the world has become wealthier, healthier and better educated over the last 20 years.
But this rapid development is in danger of reversing because of the rise of global temperatures, that could cause an increase in natural disasters, especially in the poor world where countries are ill-equipped to cope.
Highlighting the failure of last year's UN climate summit in Copenhagen, the report called for renewed efforts to make sure that talks in Cancun, Mexico next month can tackle global warming and protect the environment.
The Real Wealth of Nations report said that unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are the biggest challenge to ending poverty. For example the 2007 mud flow caused by natural gas drilling which forced thousands to flee their homes in Java, Indonesia.
And the problem will get worse with the world population expected to hit nine billion by 2050 and increasing demand from the developing world for meat, cars and other ‘carbon intensive’ goods.
Ultimately the growth in consumption and destruction of carbon sinks like rainforests fuel global temperature rise that could cause floods and droughts.
The UN said that on one estimate, the adverse effects of climate change on grain yields would push prices up, more than doubling the price of wheat. In a worst case scenario, the report added, by 2050 per capita consumption of cereals would fall by a fifth, leaving 25 million additional children malnourished, with South Asia the worst affected.
Unless more is done to reduce carbon emissions, the environment will become uninhabitable in many parts of the world, the report warned.
“The continuing reliance on fossil fuels is threatening irreparable damage to our environment and to the human development of future generations," said the report.
"These developments pose serious questions about the long run feasibility of the world's current production and consumption patterns."
Overall, the UN said poor countries had been closing the human development gap with rich countries over the past two decades, particularly in health and education. The countries reporting the slowest progress were those in sub-Saharan Africa struck by the HIV epidemic and parts of the former Soviet Union suffering increased adult mortality.