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 user 2005-03-31 at 10:27:00 am Views: 46
  • #11192
    Study highlights global decline
    The most comprehensive survey ever into the state of the planet
    concludes that human activities threaten the Earth’s ability to sustain future

    The report says the way society obtains its resources has caused irreversible
    changes that are degrading the natural processes that support life on Earth.

    This will compromise efforts to address hunger, poverty and improve

    The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95
    nations over a period of four years.

    This report is essentially an audit of nature’s
    economy, and the audit shows we’ve driven most of the accounts into the red

    Jonathan Lash, World Resources Institute
    It reports that humans have changed most ecosystems beyond
    recognition in a dramatically short space of time.

    The way society has sourced its food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel
    over the past 50 years has seriously degraded the environment, the assessment
    (MA) concludes.

    And the current state of affairs is likely to be a road block to the
    Millennium Development Goals agreed to by world leaders at the United Nations in
    2000, it says.

    “Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and
    hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to
    be sustained if most of the ecosystem ‘services’ on which humanity relies
    continue to be degraded,” the report states.

    “This report is essentially an audit of nature’s economy, and the audit shows
    we’ve driven most of the accounts into the red,” commented Jonathan Lash, the
    president of the World Resources Institute.

    “If you drive the economy into the red, ultimately there are significant
    consequences for our capacity to achieve our dreams in terms of poverty
    reduction and prosperity.”

    Way forward

    The MA is slightly different to all previous environmental reports in that it
    defines ecosystems in terms of the “services”, or benefits, that people get from
    them – timber for building; clean air to breathe; fish for food; fibres to make

    There will undoubtedly be gainsayers, as there are
    with the IPCC; but I put them in the same box as the flat-Earthers and the
    people who believe smoking doesn’t cause cancer

    Prof Sir John Lawton
    The study finds the requirements of a burgeoning world population
    after WW II drove an unsustainable rush for these natural resources.

    Although humanity has made considerable gains in the process – economies and
    food production have continued to grow – the way these successes have been
    achieved puts at risk global prosperity in the future.

    “When we look at the drivers of change affecting ecosystems, we see that,
    across the board, the drivers are either staying steady or increasing in
    severity – habitat change, climate change, invasive species, overexploitation of
    resources; and pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus,” said Dr William
    Reid, the director of the MA.

    More land was converted to agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th
    and 19th Centuries combined. More than half of all the synthetic nitrogen
    fertilisers – first made in 1913 – ever used on the planet were deployed after

    The MA authors say the pressure for resources has resulted in a substantial
    and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth, with some
    10-30% of the mammal, bird and amphibian species currently threatened with

    The report says only four ecosystem services have been enhanced in the last
    50 years: increases in crop, livestock and aquaculture production, and increased
    carbon sequestration for global climate regulation (which has come from new
    forests planted in the Northern Hemisphere).

    Two services – fisheries and fresh water – are said now to be well beyond
    levels that can sustain current, much less future, demands.

    Global value

    The assessment runs to 2,500 pages and is intended to inform global policy
    initiatives. In many ways, it mirrors the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on
    Climate Change (IPCC) which, by bringing together hundreds of scientists in a
    peer-reviewed process, has driven efforts to slow global warming.

    “There will undoubtedly be gainsayers, as there are with the IPCC; but I put
    them in the same box as the flat-Earthers and the people who believe smoking
    doesn’t cause cancer,” said Professor Sir John Lawton, former chief executive of
    the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council.


    Humans have radically altered ecosystems in just 50 years
    Changes have brought gains but at high ecosystem cost
    Further unsustainable practices will threaten development goals
    Workable solutions will require significant changes in policy

    “The MA is a very powerful consensus about the unsustainable
    trajectory that most of the world’s ecosystems are now on.”

    The report is not all doom and gloom. Modelling of future scenarios suggests
    human societies can ease the strains being put on nature, while continuing to
    use them to raise living standards.

    But it requires, says the MA, changes in consumption patterns, better
    education, new technologies and higher prices for exploiting ecosystems.

    Some of the solutions go to old but as yet unfulfilled initiatives, such as
    the abolition of production subsidies which imbalance world trade and in
    agriculture are blamed for overloading land with fertilisers and pesticides as
    farmers chase high yields.

    Newer solutions centre on putting a value on “externalities” that are
    currently deemed to be “free” – airlines do not pay for the carbon dioxide they
    put into the atmosphere; and the price of food does not reflect the cost of
    cleaning waterways that have been polluted by run-off of agrochemicals from the


    60% of world ecosystem services have been degraded
    Of 24 evaluated ecosystems, 15 are being damaged
    About 20% of corals were lost in just 20 years; 20% degraded
    Nutrient pollution has led to eutrophication of waters and
    coastal dead zones
    Species extinction is now 100-1,000 times above the normal
    background rate

    In future, these areas could be constrained by markets that trade
    permits – as in Europe’s newly established carbon emissions market.

    Technology’s role, the MA says, will be keenly felt in the field of renewable

    But the pace of change needs to quicken, the report warns. Angela Cropper,
    the co-chair of the MA assessment panel, added: “The range of current responses
    are not commensurate with the nature, the extent or the urgency of the situation
    that is at hand.

    “In our scenarios, we see that with interventions that are strategic,
    targeted, and more fundamental in nature – we can realise some of the desired
    outcomes and they can have positive results for ecosystems, their services and
    human well-being.”

    The MA has cost some $20m to put together. It was funded by the Global
    Environment Facility, the United Nations Foundation, the David and Lucile
    Packard Foundation, the World Bank and others.