Activities report of the initiative group of the working group on environmental statistics
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Documento de trabajo (Español e Inglés); / Working document (Spanish and English); Eighth meeting of the Executive Committee of the SCA-ECLAC. Santo Domingo, 22-24 October 2008Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the richest regions in the world in terms of biodiversity and natural resources. Its economies depend heavily on the use of those resources for economic growth and human development. With the exception of Mexico and Brazil, the countries of the region export primary goods, such as agricultural and forestry products and hydrocarbons, in other words, products that make intensive use of natural resources. Other production activities, such as industry, transportation and tourism, which are of tremendous importance in the Caribbean countries, create pollution and exert considerable pressure on the environment. The overexploitation of the natural capital that sustains so many of the economies in the region therefore poses a threat to their development and jeopardizes present and future generations in Latin America and the Caribbean.The environmental problems facing Latin America and the Caribbean are many in number and complex in kind. Rapid unplanned urbanization, the degradation of ecosystems (river basins, forests and seas, among others); and the loss of biodiversity threaten the region. Water resources, soils and coastal areas are becoming increasingly polluted, and the region is proving to be more and more vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Meeting the challenge of sustainable development has become a sine qua non condition for ensuring economic development and guaranteeing the future for generations to come.Tremendous headway has been made over the past 30 years in the institutionalization of environmental issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. Special laws have been passed, ministries and secretariats for the environment have been set up, and a wide array of international and regional agreements have been signed. Civil society has also played a fundamental role in environmental protection and development activities. There is no doubt that the environment has been gaining importance in national policy agendas throughout the region.What the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean now need is timely and reliable data on the state of the environment and natural resources so that they can make informed decisions and public- policy choices that further sustainable development.In response, national statistics offices and environment ministries all over the region have been working to formalize the compilation of environmental statistics, indicators and accounts. These efforts have been both heterogeneous and fruitful. Several new institutions have been set up to carry out environmental statistics programmes over the last decade, and an increasing number of these institutions have units devoted exclusively to environmental data collection. Also, more countries are publishing regular indicators and statistics, and inter-institutional platforms for coordinating and expanding the production and diffusion of environmental statistics are becoming more common. Furthermore, regional and horizontal cooperation in this area is increasing.This trend towards enhancing the development of environmental statistics as a means of monitoring public policies and supporting decision-making processes is reflected in the work of the Statistical Commission of the United Nations and of the Statistical Conference of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the global and regional level, respectively.The inclusion of environmental issues in the regional agenda of the Conference is an important step forward in the development of official environmental statistics systems in the region. There is still a long way to go, however, before the region has consolidated environmental information and statistics systems that can provide timely input for public policymaking.