20 ways the world has changed since 1st Earth Summit

The United Nations says humans are more concerned about damage done to the environment than we were 20 years ago — but we're still destroying it faster than we can fix it.

UN report details changes over the past 20 years — both good and bad

A mother and her son carry drums to collect drinking water in a shanty town in New Delhi, India, Oct. 31. A UN report on changes in the world since the 1992 Earth Summit finds the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums has fallen drastically, but still number 827 million. (Mustafa Quraishi/Associated Press)

The United Nations says humans are more concerned about damage done to the environment than we were 20 years ago — but we're still destroying it faster than we can fix it.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney chats with the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, following Mulroney's speech at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. (Ron Poling/Canadian Press)

That's part of a snapshot prepared by the United Nations Environment Program in a report called Keeping Track that looks at a wide range of changes that have occurred since the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

The report is designed to be used by legislators at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio next May.

And far from being a thick report that will just gather dust, Keeping Track is actually a bit of a page-turner, filled with surprising and often encouraging news about our stewardship of the Earth.

The report uses a minimum of text and relies on colourful graphics, charts and satellite pictures to show the major environmental and social changes that have occurred on Earth since the early 1990s, from growing cities in China to the rapidly spreading footprint of Alberta's oilsands.

Of course some of the news is bad … really bad. But not all.

Here are some examples of the big changes in the world over the last 20 years.

1. The number of megacities has doubled.

Top 10 megacities

2. The world is eating 26 per cent more meat.

3. Global temperatures continue to rise, with the last 10 years the warmest on record.

4. World industry is 23 per cent more energy efficient.

5. Plastic consumption has skyrocketed — with annual production reaching a record 265 million tonnes worldwide in 2010.

6. The 1990 Montreal Protocol to limit ozone-destroying chemicals is the world's most successful international agreement, producing a 93 per cent drop in the damaging emissions since 1992.

7. Cement production is the fastest-growing source of C02 emissions.

8. The Mesopotamian Marshlands, the largest in the Middle East, are recovering from deliberate draining by Iraq in the 1990s.

9. Saudi Arabia has transformed from an importer of food to an exporter due to irrigation.

10. Environmentally protected areas have increased worldwide by 42 per cent.

11. Fish stock depletion is now one of the most pressing environmental issues.

Patterns of electric light on Earth seen from space at night show the digital divide between north and south. ((UNEP report))

12. Renewable energy has skyrocketed, with solar energy leading the way — up 30,000 per cent since 1992.

13. Biofuel production — up 300,000 per cent — is converting more land from farming to production of fuel.

14. Organic farming is up 240 per cent since 1999.

15. The Amazon rainforest has been largely destroyed due to drought and farming.

16. Tourism and travel is the world's largest business sector — and ecotourism is the fastest-growing type of tourism, up 20-34 per cent per year.

17. Passenger trips by airplanes have doubled in the past two decades.


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18. Clean drinking water access increased to 87 per cent, but widespread sanitation is still slow.

19. 30 per cent more private companies are adopting environmental standards every year.

20. Women's influence is rising with more 60 per cent more seats in national parliaments.

Source: World Bank/UNEP report: Keeping Track, 2011