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
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