What Will Life on Earth Be Like in 2050?

Scientists Look Ahead Five Decades in State-of-the-Planet Report, Explore Ways

to Solve Earth's Problems

Island Press Releases 4-Volume Set on Findings of Millennium Ecosystem


Jan 19, 2006, 00:00 ET from Island Press

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The number of extreme
 events, such as hurricanes and famine, affecting at least one million people
 will increase over the next 45 years if a certain scenario of world
 development plays out.  Demand for water will increase enormously -- between
 30% and 85% -- especially in Africa and Asia, by the year 2050.  But human
 health may improve as public health measures advance vaccine development and
 lessen the impact of epidemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
     These are just a few of the many findings of the Millennium Ecosystem
 Assessment (MA) published in a four-volume set by Island Press and released
 today.  The MA is the product of a four-year global research initiative,
 commissioned by the United Nations, in which 1,300 scientists from 95 nations
 explore the complex interactions between human well-being and the environment.
     "The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment tells us that there is an
 inextricable link between the health of humans and the health of the planet.
 We can no longer ignore the enormous economic and social benefits, such as
 climate regulation and water purification, provided by nature's fragile
 ecosystems," said Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations
 Foundation.  "The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is an extensively
 researched, scientifically grounded roadmap for why and how we should slow or
 reverse today's ecosystem degradation and chart a path toward sustainable
 human development."
     The MA looks ahead 50 years from the year 2000 to paint four alternate
 pictures, or scenarios, of life on earth.  Current estimates of three billion
 more people and a quadrupling of the world economy by 2050 show that our
 consumption of biological and physical resources will skyrocket putting much
 more pressure on ecosystems.  But the scenarios demonstrate that the condition
 of ecosystems in the future could be significantly worse or better than in the
 present -- depending on policy choices.  For example, wise use of
 environmental technology, investing in education and health, and reducing
 poverty can reduce pressure on ecosystems.
     "Despite what looks like steady global decline, this is a story of hope.
 The MA gives us a powerful way to explore the possible impacts of broad policy
 directions for life on Earth and tells us that changes in policy can make a
 difference," said Dr. Stephen Carpenter, Professor of Limnology at the
 University of Wisconsin and one of the chief authors of the MA.
     "Many of the policies identified by the MA as positive for both the
 environment and mankind are used somewhere today.  So if we have the political
 will, we have the ability to implement them on a global scale," added
     The four scenarios are descriptions of plausible futures -- based on
 changes in such factors as economic and population growth, climate change, and
 trade -- told from the point of view of someone looking back from 2050 at what
 has happened in the world since 2000.
     If certain assumptions play out by 2050, according to the MA, water will
 be more plentiful in nearly all regions because of climate change, but
 pressure on ecosystems to provide water to meet growing demand increases.
 Food security is likely to remain out of reach for many people, despite
 increasing food supply, but child malnutrition, while not eradicated, will
 likely drop over the coming decades.  By the end of the century, climate
 change may be the predominant driver of biodiversity loss and changes in
 ecosystem services globally.
     "Ecosystem services have dramatically improved human well-being over the
 past centuries. People are better nourished and live longer and healthier
 lives than ever before, incomes have risen, and political institutions are
 more open," stated Dr. Walter Reid, Director of the Millennium Ecosystem
 Assessment and Professor with the Institute for the Environment at Stanford
 University.  "But these gains have been achieved at a growing cost.  It's now
 time for us to measure the economic value of these services so we can make
 better decisions about our future."
     "Payments for ecosystem services can be an effective way to protect
 services that people rely on such as clean water, while also protecting the
 environment," said Dr. Prabhu Pingali of the Food and Agriculture Organization
 of the United Nations.
     The MA represents the first time scientists have looked at how the health
 of the environment contributes to human well-being and how policy decisions we
 make today shape the world of tomorrow.

SOURCE Island Press