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More, Better Environmental Information Needed To Underpin Sustainable Development

July 29, 2010

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2010— Countries have mixed track records over the past decade in managing the environment, according to the tenth edition of the World Bank’s Little Green Data Book released today.  Uneven availability of environmental data also emerges as a hindrance to promoting and monitoring environmental sustainability.

Each year over the past 10 years the Little Green Data Book has taken the pulse of the world’s environment, recording progress in some areas but regression in others, with wide disparities across regions.  For example, urban air pollution declined in most countries between 2000 and 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available), with the greatest progress in low-income and lower middle-income countries.  But concentration levels are still nearly three times higher in these countries than in high-income countries.  Every year, an estimated 800,000 people die prematurely from lung cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases caused by outdoor air pollution.

“Environmental data helps us to understand whether countries are on a sustainable development path or not,” said Warren Evans, Director of the Environment Department, World Bank, “Environmental sustainability underpins the factors of production and the well being and productivity of the labor force, but too often is relegated to the back burner when important investment and policy decisions are made. Policy makers need more and better environmental information to help them make better decisions.”

Since it was first published in 2000, the Little Green Data Book has tracked how the world has become drier as water resources per capita have diminished under the pressure of fast-growing population.  Water availability is below scarcity levels in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia.  Forest cover has fallen in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.  In developing countries the net loss of forest area for 2000-07 is estimated at 80,000 square kilometers a year.
In addition, the lack of access to modern energy continues to be an important health risk factor in the poorest countries, where nearly 50 percent of energy use comes from biomass fuels and waste. Indoor air pollution is responsible for over 1.6 million annual deaths and 2.7 percent of the global burden of disease (in Disability-Adjusted Life Years or DALYs).

“The World Bank has worked hard on the analysis and advocacy that helps countries focus on the environment and has been the largest multilateral source of environment-related financing,” said Kirk Hamilton, Lead Environmental Economist, World Bank, “All policymakers and development professionals, no matter what sector they are active in, should be able to find much of the information they need in the Little Green Data Book.”

Under the headings of agriculture, forests and biodiversity, energy, emissions and pollution, water and sanitation, environment and health, and national accounts aggregates, the Little Green Data Book compiles 50 indicators for over 200 countries each year.  The Little Green Data Book is based on the World Development Indicators (WDI), the primary World Bank database for development data from officially-recognized international sources.

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