Setting the Stage | 13 Fresh water

The freshwater resources of the region are distributed un­evenly across the region, both in terms of geography and per capita. In 1995, the region consumed around 300 km3 of water, out of a global total of 1,800 km3; nearly two-thirds of this was used for irrigation (Rosegrant et al., 2002). The rivers running from the region's mountains determine the water supplies to the lowlands and the potential for hydro-power; the reliability of these resources is at risk because of changing climates. Water supplies in western Europe are most under pressure in Germany, France and the Mediter­ranean (including Israel) because of the low rainfall, high irrigation demand and high populations. Many states in Eastern Europe also have water use rates of over 20%. The Russian utilization rate is low (2%), but hides great inequal­ities. This is why it has been proposed to divert the Volga, Ob and Irtysh rivers to provide more water to Central Asia, with very uncertain environmental consequences. Increas­ing competition for water exists in the arid western sections of the US, not only to meet agricultural and hydropower needs, but also for drinking water in growing urban areas, Native American water rights, industry, recreation and nat­ural ecosystems. As a result, many aquifers are losing water at rates far higher than recharge rates. In Canada, water consumption per capita is high by international standards (1420 m3 per capita in 1996); but total consumption is only 2% of the available renewable supplies. The electricity sec­tor consumed 64%, the manufacturing sector 14% and the primary-resource sector 11% (mostly for agriculture) (Gun-ton et al., 2005). Energy

For much of the region's history, the major energy sources were wood and charcoal until replaced by coal. As agricul­ture intensified, it became increasingly reliant on fossil fuels for the production of fertilizers, the transport of materials and the processing and transport of the final product. A re­cent study in Sweden showed that a meal of beef, rice, toma­toes and wine required inputs of 19.0 MJ, compared with the dietary energy of a mere 2.5 MJ (Carlsson-Kanyama et al., 2003). Agriculture and forestry are increasingly seen as sources for renewable energy, in the forms of biomass, bio-fuels and biogas. Very large increases in production are an­ticipated, driven by changing policies across the region. The EU is now committed to replacing 5.75% of all transport fuels with biofuels by 2011 (EU directive 2003/30/EC); and US biodiesel production capacity is expected to increase to 9.5 x 109 liters per year by the end of 2008, from 6.5 million liters in 2000 (National Biodiesel Board, 2007). The diver­sion of large areas from food to biofuel production will have uncertain but very large consequences for agrifood systems, especially as land and water availability are simultaneously reduced through climate change, sea level rise and increased urbanization. These consequences are already becoming ap­parent in some countries as the price of bread and other staples has risen more rapidly than the rate of inflation. Fisheries

The NAE region borders the largest marine fishery, the northwest Pacific (21.6 million tonnes in 2004), and the fourth largest, the northeast Atlantic (10 million tonnes).


Most of the marine fisheries are fully or over-exploited. Catches have declined in the northern Pacific, but not as precipitously as in the northwest Atlantic, where catches are now around two million tonnes yr-1, around half the levels in the early 1970s. Five species of fish caught here are now considered to be critically endangered (Devine et al., 2006). To prevent further erosion of the resource base and ensure sustainable development, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working with a range of stakeholders to develop and im­plement integrated ocean management plans as part of the 1997 Oceans Act (Quigley and Harper, 2006; Rutherford et al., 2005). Reporting of inland catch fisheries is much less precise, but it seems that Europe and North America account for only around 6% of global catch, with dramatic declines in Europe. Aquaculture is increasing, but at very low levels compared with Asia (FAO, 2007). Marginal lands The areas north of the tree line constitute the arctic and tundra. Hunter-gatherers have long exploited this biome, and were at least partly responsible for the extinction of the megafauna of the region. Indigenous peoples still con­tinue traditional practices; but population densities are very low, and impacts on natural populations tightly regulated. Thus while Nunavat relies heavily on hunting for its econ­omy, it has a total population of less than 30,000 (Statistics Canada, 2006). The Sami people of northern Scandinavia herded reindeer, but this nomadic lifestyle has only been practiced by small numbers in recent centuries and has vir­tually ceased. It is continued by some of the Nenets people farther east. The natural resources of the area (fossil fuels, minerals and marine fisheries) are exploited more by ex­ternal peoples. Climate change is already influencing this biome: polar icecaps are shrinking, glaciers retreating and permafrost beginning to thaw, releasing methane to the at­mosphere, changing hydrology and transforming the region from a sink of greenhouse gases to a source (ACIA, 2005).

     In the region's mountain chains, fishing and hunter-gathering is often dominated by tourists. Herders have tra­ditionally exploited the uplands during summers, bringing cattle, sheep and horses down to lower elevations during the winter. This practice of transhumance influenced culture and biodiversity, creating and then maintaining very ecolog­ically diverse landscapes of meadows interspersing forests. Transhumance continues on public and private lands in the US West. The conservation of transhumance in Europe is now a matter of choice more than economic necessity. The EC seeks to retain such landscapes through regional devel­opment and agri-environmental policies; but in many areas, meadows are giving way to forest as rural areas become depopulated and land is abandoned. Forests

South of the tree line is a belt of coniferous forest, extend­ing across Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. These boreal and taiga forests are very extensive, accounting for much of the estimated 1.6 x109ha found in NAE, 40% of the world total (FAO, 2006). Russia has the largest area of for­est of any country, at 809 x 106 ha, nearly twice as much as Brazil, with a vast proportion found in Siberia. Canada and the US hold the third and fourth largest areas of forest