General IssuesHuman activities cause serious environmental problems all over the globe and, in turn, often these result in grave harm to human beings. Some examples that have a clear impact on human rights are:
• Air According to the WHO 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution. This boils down to thousands of deaths per year per country by outdoor air polution alone. Often adding up to four times more fatalities than in traffic. Mainly due to particulate matter or fine particles produced by traffic and industry. Road transport alone is such a significant source of air pollution, that it was estimated to cause an average loss of 8.6 months of life expectancy in European Union countries (EU25) after May 2004.
• Water According to UNEP, overexploitation of many of the surface water resources and great aquifers upon which irrigated agriculture (takes about 70 per cent of available water) and domestic supplies depend has resulted in more and more countries facing water stress or scarcity. Water quality is declining too, polluted by microbial pathogens and excessive nutrients. Globally, contaminated water remains the greatest single cause of human disease and death. About 1.2 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water, 80 % of which are the rural poor.
• Development impacts According to UNEP over 70 per cent of the Earth's land surface could be affected by the impacts of roads, mining, cities and other infrastructure developments in the next 30 years unless urgent action is taken.
• Marine Overfishing and other marine life being overexploited, marine ecosystems being destroyed to the extent that it outweighs nature's ability to maintain it.
• Forests Deforestation and ancient forests being in crisis due to human destruction such as pollution and hunting (bush-meat). Many of the animals and (medicinal) plants that live in these forests face extinction. And many of the people and cultures who depend on these forests for their way of life are also under threat.
• Toxics Toxic chemicals in our environment threaten our rivers and lakes, our air, land, and oceans and all live on and in it. Ultimately ourselves and our future. Environmental exposure causes almost a quarter of all diseases.
• Reducing pollution in developed countries has been at the expense of the developing world, where industrial production and its impacts are now being exported.
• The Earth’s biological diversity is under increasing threat. The extinction rate of species is accelerating. Habitat destruction and/or modification are the main cause of biodiversity loss but invasive species are the second most important pressure.
People are living far beyond our means. The human population is now so large and is consuming so much that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available. Humanity's footprint is 21.9 hectares per person while the Earth's biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person.
The declining environmental quality of planet Earth and the apparent increase in strength and frequency of natural hazards such as cyclones, floods and droughts are intensifying peoples' vulnerability to food insecurity, ill health and unsustainable livelihoods, says UNEP.