Governments are disinclined to consider the possible adverse environmental consequences of policies that offer immediate social benefit or political advantage.
Most issues that will require policy attention in the next century are issues that are currently existing and well known. As time goes on they will become more severe and pose major local and global challenges. If these challenges are not addressed, they will give rise to major environmental crises in the 21st century. As such, they are emerging due to lack of avoiding actions. More effort is also needed to understand the mechanisms through which emerging issues become issues for policy. Social and political processes, science and the trend towards public involvement all have a role to play, at least in some countries.
There are numerous examples from the past. Increased and accelerating emissions of carbon dioxide have led to the climate change issue; the continued intensification of fishing activities has led to the collapse of fisheries in many seas, and the relentless pace of urbanization has creating a series of problems for local authorities in developing and developed countries alike. A classic example of an environmental disaster caused by lack of action is the fate of the Aral Sea. Policy makers were well aware that continued and uncontrolled water abstraction for irrigation would lead to the death of the Aral Sea. They could, however, find no other way of meeting the economic imperatives of the time than through ignoring the problem.