Endangered ecosystems

Experts warn: Changes in ecosystems continue to worsen and undermine global development goals

World Resources Institute Press Release, 30 / 03 / 05

London, March 2005 - A landmark study released today reveals that around 60% of the services provided by ecosystems that support life on earth - for example the provision of freshwater, fish stocks, regulation of the air and water, the regulation of regional climates, natural hazards and parasites - are degraded or overexploited. Scientists warn that the negative effects of this degradation are likely to worsen significantly over the next 50 years.

"None of the progress made in eradicating poverty and hunger in the world, improving the health of populations or protecting the environment is likely to last if most of the services provided by ecosystems and on which humanity depends continue to degrade, "announces the Synthesis Report on the Assessment of Ecosystems for the Millennium (MA) that results from the study conducted by 1300 experts from 95 countries. The study establishes in particular that the ongoing degradation of ecosystem services is an obstacle on the road to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, goals that world leaders have agreed to at the United Nations. 2000.
Although we do not have all the data yet, experts can already claim that the observed degradation of 15 from the 24 ecosystem services considered by the study increases the likelihood of abrupt changes and can seriously affect the well-being of humans. For example, the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, the creation of "dead zones" along the coastline, the destruction of fishing areas, or climate change at the scale of major regions of the world.

The Synthesis Report highlights four major conclusions:

• Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and completely over the past 50 years than at any time in their history. They did so primarily to meet growing needs for food, fresh water, wood, fiber and fuel. More land has been converted for agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined. More than half of the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers - developed in 1913 - have been used for agriculture since 1985. Experts say the result is a substantial and largely irreversible loss of the diversity of life on Earth. , where 10 to 30% of species of mammals, birds and amphibians are now threatened with extinction.

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• Changes in ecosystems that have resulted in substantial net gains in terms of human well-being and economic development have come at an increasingly high price in terms of degradation of other services. Only four services provided by ecosystems have seen an improvement over the past 50 years: production gains for crops, livestock and aquaculture products, and increased carbon sequestration for global climate regulation . Two services, the production of fisheries resources and the provision of fresh water, are today at a level well below current needs, not to mention future needs. Experts predict that these difficulties will substantially reduce the benefits that future generations can expect.

• The degradation of ecosystem services is expected to worsen significantly in the first half of the century, which is an obstacle to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Each of the four scenarios for the future explored by scientists during the study anticipates much progress towards eradicating world hunger, but this progress will be far too slow to halve by 2015 the number of people who are suffering from hunger. The experts also point out that ecosystem changes such as deforestation have an influence on the abundance of pathogens that affect humans such as malaria or cholera, as well as on the risk of new diseases emerging. Malaria, for example, accounts for 11% of the health burden for Africa; if this disease could have been eradicated 35 years ago, the gross domestic product of the African continent today would be 100 billion higher.

• The challenge of reversing the trend of ecosystem degradation while meeting growing demand can be met by certain scenarios that involve significant policy and institutional changes. These are important changes, however, and current trends do not point in that direction. The report mentions the options available to conserve or improve certain services provided by ecosystems while reducing the adverse effects or increasing the positive impacts on other services. For example, protecting natural forests saves wildlife while providing fresh water and reducing carbon emissions.

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"The essential conclusion of this evaluation is that human societies have the power to loosen the constraints they place on the natural services of the planet, while continuing to use them to achieve a better standard of living for all," says the Council. in a statement entitled Living Above Our Means - Natural Assets and Human Well-Being. "Achieving this, however, will require radical changes in how we treat nature at all stages of decision-making, as well as new ways of cooperating among governments, business and civil society. Alarm signals are there for who wants to see them. The future is in our hands. "

The MA Synthesis Report also states that it is the poorest people who suffer the most from changes in ecosystems. Regions facing serious problems of ecosystem degradation - Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, parts of Latin America, parts of South and South-East Asia - are also those with more difficult to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of poor people is expected to increase from 315 to 404 million by 2015.
"Only by understanding our environment and how it works can we make the decisions necessary to protect it. It is only by counting all our precious natural and human resources that we can hope to build a sustainable future, "said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a message accompanying the release of reports. from the MA. "The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is an unprecedented contribution to our global mission for development, sustainability and peace."

The Synthesis Report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is the first in a series of seven synthesis reports and four technical volumes that assess the state of the world's ecosystems and their impact on human well-being. This report is published with a statement from the MA Governing Council entitled "Living beyond our means - natural assets and human well-being".

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The four-year assessment was designed in partnership between United Nations agencies, international scientific organizations and development agencies, with guidance from the private sector and representatives of civil society. Funding is mainly provided by the World Environment Fund, the United Nations Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and the World Bank. The AM Secretariat is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
The MA is recognized by governments as a mechanism to address some of the assessment needs of four international environmental treaties: the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Migratory Species. The MA is supported by 22 from the world's largest scientific organizations, including the Royal Society of the United Kingdom and the Third World Academy of Sciences.

The work of the MA operates under the control of a Board of Directors of 45 members, jointly chaired by Dr. Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser of the World Bank, and Dr. AH Zakri, Director of the Institute of University studies of the United Nations University. The Evaluation Group that oversees MA's technical work includes 13 from the world's leading social and natural science researchers. It is co-chaired by Dr. Angela Cropper of the Cropper Foundation and Dr. Harold Mooney of Stanford University. Dr. Walter Reid is the Director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

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