Development and economic growth have improved the quality of life for many people, but the gains have been uneven and economic growth has often had negative environmental consequences, with profound impact on poor people. Natural resources—land; water, and air—are being degraded at alarming rates in many countries. And environmental factors such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, waterborne diseases, and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the health of millions of people. The adverse impact of environmental change will be most striking in developing countries—and particularly among the poor—because of their high dependence on natural resources, their limited capacity to adapt to a changing climate, and their limited resources to remedy the impact of such changes or to implement mitigating policies. Low-income families and regions are more vulnerable not only to human-induced environmental hazards but also to natural disasters and environmental risks such as the impact of global climate changes. Water scarcity is already a major problem for the world’s poor, and changes in rainfall and temperature associated with climate change will likely make this scarcity worse. Today, the World Bank is one of the key promoters and financiers of environmental upgrading in the developing world. The indicators in this section measure the environmental resources and the goods and services produced from them—helping to establish the link between growth and environmental change and pointing the way toward sustainable development. Data here cover forests, biodiversity, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution. Other indicators relevant to the environment section are found under topical pages for Agriculture & Rural Development, Energy & Mining, Infrastructure, and Urban Development.

  • Biological diversity is defined in terms of variability in genes, species, and ecosystems. According to a comprehensive assessment of world species, at least 33 percent of all 55,925 species assessed are threatened with extinction.  As threats to biodiversity mount, the international community is increasingly focusing on conserving diversity. Defor­estation is a major cause of loss of biodiversity, and habitat conservation is vital for stemming this loss. Conservation efforts have focused on protecting areas of high biodiversity. The number of threatened species is an important measure of the immediate need for conservation in an area. Global analyses of the status of threatened spe­cies have been carried out for few groups of organisms. Only for mammals, birds, and amphibians has the status of virtually all known species been assessed. Threatened species are defined using the World Con­servation Union’s (IUCN) classification: endangered (in danger of extinction and unlikely to survive if causal factors continue operating) and vulnerable (likely to move into the endangered category in the near future if causal factors continue operating). The Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) benefits index for biodiversity is a comprehensive indicator of national biodiversity status and is used to guide its biodiversity priorities.. For each country the bio­diversity indicator incorporates the best available and comparable information in four relevant dimen­sions: represented species, threatened species, rep­resented ecoregions, and threatened ecoregions. To combine these dimensions into one measure, the indicator uses dimensional weights that reflect the consensus of conservation scientists at the GEF, IUCN, WWF International, and other nongovernmen­tal organizations. • Forest area Land is spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ. It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use. • Threatened species are the number of species classified by the IUCN as endangered, vulnerable, rare, indeterminate, out of danger, or insufficiently known. Mammals exclude whales and porpoises. Birds are listed for the country where their breeding or wintering ranges are located. Plants are native vascular plant species. • GEF benefits index for biodiversity is a composite index of relative biodi­versity potential based on the species represented in each country and their threat status and diversity of habitat types. The index has been normalized from 0 (no biodiversity potential) to 100 (maximum biodi­versity potential). Data on forest area are from the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment and the FAO’s data web site. Data on species are from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the United Nations Environment Programme, and WCMC. The GEF benefits index for biodiversity is from “Biodiversity Conservation Indicators: New Tools for Priority Setting at the Global Environ­ment Facility”.
  • Greenhouse gases—which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, per­fluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride—contribute to climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions, largely a byproduct of energy production and use, account for the largest share of greenhouse gases. Anthro­pogenic carbon dioxide emissions result primarily from fossil fuel combustion and cement manufactur­ing. Burning oil releases more carbon dioxide than burning natural gas, and burning coal releases even more for the same level of energy use. Cement manu­facturing releases about half a metric ton of carbon dioxide for each metric ton of cement produced. Methane emissions result largely from agricultural activities, industrial production landfills and waste­water treatment, and other sources such as tropi­cal forest and other vegetation fires. The emissions are usually expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents using the global warming potential, which allows the effective contributions of different gases to be com­pared. A kilogram of methane is 21 times as effective at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere as a kilo­gram of carbon dioxide within 100 years. Nitrous oxide emissions are mainly from fossil fuel combustion, fertilizers, rainforest fires, and animal waste. Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas, with an estimated atmospheric lifetime of 114 years, compared with 12 years for methane. The per kilo­gram global warming potential of nitrous oxide is nearly 310 times that of carbon dioxide within 100 years. Other greenhouse gases covered under the Kyoto Protocol are hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Although emissions of these artificial gases are small, they are more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, with much higher atmospheric lifetime and high global warming potential. • Carbon dioxide emissions are emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement and include carbon dioxide produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring. • Methane emissions are emissions from human activities such as agriculture and from indus­trial methane production. • Agri­cultural methane emissions are emissions from animals, animal waste, rice production, agricultural waste burning (nonenergy, on-site), and savannah burning (IPCC Source/Sink category 4). • Nitrous oxide emissions are emissions from agricultural biomass burning, industrial activi­ties, and livestock management. • Agri­cultural nitrous oxide emissions are emissions produced through fertilizer use (synthetic and animal manure), animal waste management, agricultural waste burning (nonenergy, on-site) and savannah burning (IPCC Source/Sink Category 4). • Other greenhouse gas emissions are byproduct emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (byproduct emissions of fluoroform from chlorodifluoromethane manufacture and use of hydrofluorocarbons), perfluoro­carbons (byproduct emissions of tetrafluoromethane and hexafluoroethane from primary aluminum production and use of perfluoro­carbons, in particular for semiconductor manufacturing), and sulfur hexafluoride (various sources, the largest being the use and manufacture of gas insulated switchgear used in electricity distribution networks). Data on carbon dioxide emissions are from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Cen­ter, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, United States. Data on methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases emissions are compiled by the International Energy Agency.
  • Water pollu­tion and degradation of water quality due to the emissions of organic pollutants are mainly caused by industrial activities. Water quality and pollution levels are gener­ally measured as concentration or load—the rate of occurrence of a substance in an aqueous solution. Polluting substances include organic matter, metals, minerals, sediment, bacteria, and toxic chemicals. Because water pollu­tion tends to be sensitive to local conditions, the national-level data may not reflect the quality of water in specific locations. The data come from an international study of industrial emissions that may be the first to include data from developing countries (Hettige, Mani, and Wheeler 1998). These data were last updated by the World Bank’s Development Research Group. Unlike estimates from earlier stud­ies based on engineering or economic models, these estimates are based on actual measurements of plant-level water pollution. The focus is on organic water pollution caused by organic waste, measured in terms of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), because the data for this indicator are the most plentiful and reliable for cross-country comparisons of emissions. BOD measures the strength of an organic waste by the amount of oxygen consumed in breaking it down. A sewage overload in natural waters exhausts the water’s dissolved oxygen content. Wastewater treat­ment, by contrast, reduces BOD. Data on water pollution are more readily available than are other emissions data because most indus­trial pollution control programs start by regulating emissions of organic water pollutants. Such data are fairly reliable because sampling techniques for measuring water pollution are more widely under­stood and much less expensive than those for air pollution. Hettige, Mani, and Wheeler (1998) used plant- and sector-level information on emissions and employ­ment from 13 national environmental protection agencies and sector-level information on output and employment from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Their economet­ric analysis found that the ratio of BOD to employ­ment in each industrial sector is about the same across countries. This finding allowed the authors to estimate BOD loads across countries and over time. The estimated BOD intensities per unit of employ­ment were multiplied by sectoral employment num­bers from UNIDO’s industry database for 1980–98. These estimates of sectoral emissions were then used to calculate kilograms of emissions of organic water pollutants per day for each country and year. • Emissions of organic water pollutants are mea­sured as biochemical oxygen demand, or the amount of oxygen that bacteria in water will consume in breaking down waste, a standard water treatment test for the presence of organic pollutants. • Industry shares of emissions of organic water pollutants are emissions from manufacturing activities as defined by two-digit divisions of the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) revision 3. Data on water pollutants come from the 1998 study by Hemamala Hettige, Muthukumara Mani, and David Wheeler, “Industrial Pollution in Eco­nomic Development: Kuznets Revisited”. The data were updated by the World Bank’s Devel­opment Research Group using the same meth­odology as the initial study.

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