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2.1 Introduction and context


The environmental movement has gone through many phases. Initially the movement consisted broadly of the conservation school, which emphasized husbanding of both renewable and non-renewable resources (especially forests) for future development, and the preservation school, which saw nature as intrinsically valuable (Eckersley 1992). In addition to these economic and aesthetic concerns, the modern environmental movement is now more about risk, the risk that environmental degradation poses to human health and well-being (Carson 1962; Rees 1995; Guha 1999; Lenton et al. 2008; Rockstrom et al. 2009a; Diamond 2011). Increasingly, there are concerns that the enormous gains in life expectancy and quality of life since the industrial revolution are in danger of being reversed (GBD 2015 Mortality and Causes of Death Collaborators; Harari 2017).


2


The five drivers reviewed in this chapter — population growth and demographics, urbanization, economic development, new technological forces, and climate change — have led to an unprecedented expansion of wealth for many but have also left many behind and could produce trouble for the future. If current trends in inequality continue, the top 0.1 per cent of the population will own more wealth than the global middle class by 2050 (WID 2018).


2.1.1 Overview of the Drivers


As noted in Section 1.6, the analysis conducted in the GEO-6 uses the DPSIR framework, where DPSIR stands for Drivers, Pressure, State (of the environment), Impact (on the environment and human well-being), and Response3


distinct, empirically as well as conceptually. Per capita consumption is expected to continue increasing in the foreseeable future (because of the unfinished agenda of eradicating poverty, meeting survival needs and enabling individuals to pursue prosperity). To decouple growth from negative environmental impacts, resource-efficient, sustainable patterns of consumption are needed.


v Technology: Technological change is well understood as a driver of change, both negative and positive. Negatively, it provides an opportunity to accelerate, with incentives, the harnessing of natural resources for human ends; in times of crisis, incentives strongly favour adoption of riskier options and elimination or minimization of safeguards. Positively, technological progress also creates more efficient options, which can meet human needs at lower resource costs.


In this assessment, urbanization and climate change are added as independent drivers because of their importance in socioeconomic change.


Urbanization has been going on throughout history, but its pace, scale and impact have accelerated sharply in recent decades. As such, it is included independently as a fourth driver.


. ‘Drivers’


are anthropogenic inertial forces – social, economic, ecological, technological, and political. They are inertial forces, in the sense that they have their own rules of motion and reversing them will require time and effort. GEO-5 referred to two drivers – population and economic development – to which GEO-6 adds three more, urbanization (previously covered under population), technology and climate change.


Three of these drivers – population, economic development, and technology – are ubiquitous in the DPSIR literature (Nelson 2005) and represent the disaggregation into three components of aggregate human consumption, and therefore of what is necessary for meeting survival as well as other welfare needs.


v Population: Other things being equal, more people will mean a proportionally higher pressure on the environment. In such a scenario, long-term sustainability is incompatible with growing populations, which the literature indicates will continue to grow at a global scale throughout this century. It is imperative in the present, therefore, to attend to how key population dynamics – including fertility rates, ageing populations, displacement and gender inequality – interact at multiple scales and impact environmental sustainability.


v Economic development: This refers to an increase in human welfare, which depends on material consumption and many other factors, including the environment. While economic development has been highly correlated with economic growth in the modern era, the two are quite


3 Note that The DPSIR framework has come under some criticism, especially on the elision over the interdependence between the drivers. In this assessment, we include an explicit examination of this interaction.


Likewise, climate change has been added as a fifth driver, even though, in principle it could be represented as an outcome of the other drivers. According to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 2014), the world is on the threshold of entering the era of ‘committed climate change’, namely that some impacts of climate change have now become irreversible (such as extinction of species and loss of biodiversity) and regardless of future mitigation or adaptation actions. In other words, even if all human activity were to cease, the impacts of climate change would continue to manifest themselves over the next few centuries.


Taken together, these five drivers are bringing about changes in natural as well as social systems. These impacts range from resource depletion to biodiversity loss, water scarcity, changes in the hydrological cycle, health impacts, and ecosystem degradation as well as pollution. In the absence of an adequate response, a changing climate could lead to a pre-modern world of famine, plague, war, and premature death.


2.2 Changes since the last assessment


A number of changes, summarized as follows, have taken place since the fifth Global Environmental Assessment (GEO-5).


v Population: With the 2018 world population estimated at 7.6 billion people, estimates by the United Nations indicate that the peak human population is likely to be higher than had been projected earlier. The world has also seen an increase in the number of migrants and refugees, in part as the result of heightened conflict and increased environmental degradation. Other demographic variables remain on track.


v Urbanization: Having passed the symbolic 50 per cent of population living in urban areas, trends indicate that rural-to-urban migration will continue, with acceleration in the global south. This represents both an increased driver of environmental pressure and an opportunity to enhance sustainability.


24 Setting the Stage


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