GLOBAL DECLINE-PLANET UNDER PRESSURE
GLOBAL DECLINE-PLANET UNDER PRESSURE
2005-03-31 at 10:27:00 am #11192Study highlights global declineThe 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 InstituteIt 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
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.”
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.
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.
MA – ASSESSMENT OVERVIEWHumans have radically altered ecosystems in just 50 yearsChanges have brought gains but at high ecosystem costFurther 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
PLANET UNDER PRESSURE60% of world ecosystem services have been degradedOf 24 evaluated ecosystems, 15 are being damagedAbout 20% of corals were lost in just 20 years; 20% degraded
Nutrient pollution has led to eutrophication of waters and
coastal dead zonesSpecies extinction is now 100-1,000 times above the normal
background rateIn 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
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.