Landmark Report Urges New Approach To Stem Widespread Decline in World's Ecosystems

Sep 15, 2000, 01:00 ET from World Resources Institute

    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,"
 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
     *  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
     Report is available at:

SOURCE World Resources Institute