Earth's natural capital depleting fast, drastic changes required
a major global study of the planet's ecosystems released on March 31, 2005 warns that human actions are depleting the Earth's natural capital at a pace that threatens the planet's ability to sustain future generations. The study is expected to provide scientific inputs for international conventions, mainly ecosystem-related conventions on biodiversity, desertification and wetlands.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concludes that humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the last 50 years that in any other comparable time in history. The changes were triggered by their need for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. Though they led to human well-being and economic development, it was at the expense of many ecosystem services and the economic prosperity of some groups of people. And the situation only gets worse: the threat of degradation in the first 50 years of this century is even greater. The report says only significant changes in policies, institutions and practices can partially reverse the degradation in some scenarios .
The report assesses current scientific literature, knowledge and data and synthesises them rather than present new findings. Its significance lies in that it involves the inputs of the largest body of social and natural scientists ever assembled to assess knowledge in this area: as many as 1,360 experts from 95 countries. Further, it uniquely links human well-being and development to ecosystem services, providing information that can complement social and economic information for development planning. It also draws certain conclusions that can only be drawn when a large body of information is assessed in totality. For example, it is the first to conclude that ecosystem changes are increasing the likelihood of abrupt and sudden changes like abrupt alterations of water quality and collapse of fisheries.
Launched on June 5, 2001 by un secretary-general Kofi Annan, the project went on for four years. The last year saw two rounds of extensive reviews by 600 experts. The exercise cost about us $24 million, of which us $7 million came through contributions in kind for the 33 assessments at the sub-global level.
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