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Note from the editors

UNU Studies on Critical Environmental Regions
Edited by Jeanne X. Kasperson, Roger E. Kasperson, and B.L. Turner II

This book launches a series from the United Nations University (UNU) research project, Critical Zones in Global Environmental Change, itself part of the UNU programme on the Human and Policy Dimensions of Global Change. Both endeavours explore the complex linkages between human activities and the environment.

The project views the human causes of and responses to major changes in bio-geochemical systems - global environmental change broadly defined - as consequences of cumulative and synergistic actions (or inactions) of individuals, groups, and states, occurring in their local and regional settings. The study examines and compares nine regional cases in which large-scale, human-induced environmental changes portend to threaten the sustainability of an existing system. The aim is to define common lessons about regional trajectories and dynamics of change as well as the types of human actions that breed environmental criticality and endangerment, thereby contributing to global environmental change. This volume, which provides an overview of the project, presents the overall results of the comparative analysis.

Regions at Risk draws upon the nine regional case-studies - Amazonia, the Aral Sea basin, the Nepal middle mountains, the Ukambani region of Kenya, the Llano Estacado of the North American Southern High Plains, the Basin of Mexico, the North Sea, the Ordos Plateau of China, and the eastern Sundaland region of South-East Asia - to explore the concept of environmental criticality. Shunning narrow "geocentric" and "anthropogenic" approaches in favour of a more integrative assessment of the trajectories of threat attendant on environmental change over time, the authors have refined the concept of criticality. A classification of environmental threat, replete with definitions, includes four categories: criticality, endangerment, impoverishment, and sustainability.

This fourfold classification guides the nine case-studies, each conducted according to a common research protocol, and informs the development of a theoretical framework for analysing the human dimensions of global environmental change. The analysis focuses on cumulative long-term changes and addresses the "regional dynamics" that are shaping the trajectories of change within each region at risk.

Titles currently available:

• Regions at Risk: Comparisons of Threatened Environments

• In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula

• Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People

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