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close this bookEco-restructuring: Implications for sustainable development (UNU, 1998, 417 pages)
close this folderPart I: Restructuring resource use
close this folder2. The biophysical basis of eco-restructuring: An overview of current relations between human economic activities and the global system
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe earth system
View the documentThe climate system and climatic change
View the documentClimatic change and vulnerability
View the documentBiological diversity
View the documentFresh water
View the documentSoils
View the documentThe solid earth (lithosphere)
View the documentLand-cover and land-use changes
View the documentHuman impacts and industrial metabolism
View the documentThe case of West Africa
View the documentOutlook


Eco-restructuring cuts across almost all scientific subjects and covers nearly all chapters of Agenda 21. But, for the purposes of this chapter, two focal points in the global debate are emphasized: namely the UNCED conventions on climatic change and biological diversity. Broad interdisciplinary research themes, such as industrial metabolism, industrial ecology, landscape analysis, and "eco-restructuring," are now emerging. It is to be hoped that they will contribute to better understanding of the interactions between human activities and the biosphere. It is helpful to look at the environment as an exhaustible resource and at the earth as a self-organizing system. This overview attempts to point out some useful principles for steering the processes of "eco-transition." It is based on lessons taken from cases - including climatic change, biodiversity, and African development to highlight problems and approaches.

In this context it is useful to focus attention on a few of the more fragile subsystems such as fresh water, soils, and aspects of relief and surface development. These biophysical elements belong both to the natural environment and to the economic system. Human driving forces, especially industrial development, have an impact on environment, especially on natural resource depletion and land-use and land-cover transformation. Similarly, climatic and biogeochemical systems have an influence on the pace and scope of eco-restructuring.

The chapter concludes with a regional thumbnail sketch on a sub continental scale, focusing on one of the world's least developed regions (West Africa). Because of the lack of hard empirical data, this discussion must largely remain on a descriptive level, primarily by making use of geographical information. It stresses the problems of sustainability and vulnerability of the African continent. There is still a lot of research to be done to find out how Africa contributes to the global situation.