WASHINGTON and BERGEN, Norway, Sept. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- A landmark
assessment released today during a meeting of the world's top environment
officials called for a new approach to managing ecosystems in order to stem
the widespread decline of the processes that sustain life on earth.
"Every measure used by scientists to assess the health of the world's
ecosystems tells us that we are drawing on them more than ever and degrading
them at an accelerating pace," said Dr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of
the United Nations Environment Programme. "We depend on ecosystems to sustain
us, and their continued good health depends, in turn, on how we take care of
The report, World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems, The Fraying
Web of Life, was released today by the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), UNEP, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute (WRI). Over 175
scientists contributed to this global research effort, which took more than
two years to complete.
The report examines coastal, forest, grassland, and freshwater and
agricultural ecosystems. It grades their health on the basis of their ability
to produce the goods and services that the world currently relies on. These
include production of food, provision of pure and sufficient water, storage of
atmospheric carbon, maintenance of biodiversity and provision of recreation
and tourism opportunities.
"For too long we have focused on how much we can take from our ecosystems,
with little attention to the services that they provide," said Thomas
Johansson, Director of UNDP's Energy and Atmosphere Programme. "Ecosystems
provide essential services like climate control and nutrient recycling that we
cannot replace at any reasonable price."
The scorecards and the statistics in People and Ecosystems paint a dismal
picture of over-fished oceans, over-pumping of water for farming, destruction
of coral reefs and forests, even too much tourism. The report identifies
human population growth and increasing consumption as the two principal
drivers of the decline of the world's ecosystems.
"Stripped of its ecosystems, Earth would resemble the stark, lifeless
images beamed back from Mars in 1997," People and Ecosystems reports.
The study recommends that governments and people must view the
sustainability of ecosystems as essential to human life. It calls for an
ecosystems approach to managing the world's critical resources, which means
evaluating decisions on land and resource use in light of how they affect the
capacity of ecosystems to produce goods and services.
"We already know enough to begin to manage ecosystems sustainably. We can
restore some of the natural productivity we have lost," said Jonathan Lash,
President of WRI. "Many of the 'fixes' are simple and non-technical."
The report contains case studies from all over the world on how people are
acting to reverse the damage to their ecosystems. In South Africa, people are
restoring the ecosystem by uprooting invasive trees. In Dhani, India,
communities use watchmen and patrols, simple harvest plans, and bans on cattle
grazing in order to restore their community forests. In Machakos, Kenya, the
Akamba people collect rainwater and construct terraces-a practice dating back
to ancient times in many parts of the world.
Lash added that while our knowledge of ecosystems has increased
dramatically, it has not kept pace with our ability to alter them. "Our
failure to think in terms of ecosystems has been rooted in our profound lack
of information about how ecosystems affect us and what condition they are in,"
Lessons drawn from People and Ecosystems suggest four basic tenets of an
* Tackle the information gap. Managing ecosystems effectively requires a
detailed understanding of their current condition and how they
* Engage in a public dialog on goals, policies, and trade-offs. Dramatic
improvements in ecosystem condition and capacity are possible when
governments and nongovernmental organizations create opportunities to
air diverse ideas about ecosystem management.
* Recognize the value of ecosystem services. Removing subsidies and
explicitly pricing ecosystem services can be politically difficult but
can promote more efficient resource use.
* Involve local communities in managing ecosystems. Local communities are
often the most prudent ecosystem managers. Involving local communities
can also yield a more equitable distribution of the benefits and costs
of ecosystem use.
"If we are to make sound ecosystem management decisions in the 21st
century, dramatic changes are needed in the way we use the knowledge and
experience at hand and the range of additional information we need," said Dr.
Robert T. Watson, Chief Scientist and Director for Environmentally and
Socially Sustainable Development of the World Bank.
The report was released at the start of the Informal Ministerial Meeting
on the Environment, being held Sept. 15-17 in Bergen, Norway. Siri Bjerke,
Norway's Minister of the Environment, said that the World Resources Report
2000-2001: People and Ecosystems is significant to all those concerned with
the environment. "It provides us with an up-to-date analysis of what we know
today, at the start of the new millennium. And -- perhaps even more important
-- what we will need to know in order to address the global challenges ahead,"
Issued jointly by the United Nations Development Programme, the United
Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank and the World Resources
Report is available at: http://www.wri.org/wri/wr2000/
SOURCE World Resources Institute