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Vol. 31 No. 5
September-October 2009

Bookworm | Books and publications hot off the press.
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Ecosystem Change and Human Well-Being—Research and Monitoring Priorities Based on the Findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

ICSU-UNESCO-UNU (2008), Paris, International Council for Science

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was called for by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000. Initiated in 2001, the objective of the MA was to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems and their contribution to human well-being. The MA has involved the work of more than 1360 experts worldwide. Their findings, contained in five technical volumes and six synthesis reports, provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide (such as clean water, food, forest products, flood control, and natural resources) and the options to restore, conserve, or enhance the sustainable use of ecosystems.

The bottom line of the MA findings was that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. At the same time, the assessment shows that with appropriate actions it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years, but the changes in policy and practice required are substantial and not currently underway.

The United Nations Environment Programme, as part of the Global Environment Facility procedures, initiated an independent valuation of the MA, which was completed in September 2006. In addition, the United Kingdom’s Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons undertook an evaluation of the MA and published its results in 2007. Both evaluations reported that the MA’s technical objective of assessing the capacity of ecosystems to support human well-being proved both innovative and far-reaching. Thus, the MA emphasis on ecosystem services and their significance for human well-being is widely recognized as having made a major contribution to linking biodiversity conservation with poverty alleviation.

However, the evaluations also concluded that there was little evidence so far that the MA has had a significant direct impact on policy formulation and decision-making, especially in developing countries. In addition, in certain areas, the MA failed to provide the hoped for synthesis, since the scientific knowledge was lacking.

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