Landmark Report Urges New Approach To Stem Widespread Decline in World's Ecosystems
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 them." 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," he said. Lessons drawn from People and Ecosystems suggest four basic tenets of an ecosystem approach: * Tackle the information gap. Managing ecosystems effectively requires a detailed understanding of their current condition and how they function. * 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," she said. Issued jointly by the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute. Report is available at: http://www.wri.org/wri/wr2000/
SOURCE World Resources Institute
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