Issue Date: April 4, 2005
Ecosystems In Decline, UN Finds
The first comprehensive evaluation of the world's ecosystems concludes that human activities threaten Earth's ability to sustain future generations. Conducted under the auspices of the United Nations, the "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment" says that, by damaging Earth's wetlands, forests, savannahs, oceans, and other habitats, humans are losing the benefits that these ecosystems provide.
Prepared by more than 1,300 experts from 95 countries, the report "shows how human activities are causing environmental damage on a massive scale throughout the world and how biodiversity--the very basis for life on Earth--is declining at an alarming rate," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a statement. The assessment cost $22 million and was supported by the UN, the World Bank, and foundations.
According to the report, the consequences of environmentally degraded world ecosystems are predicted to be severe in coming decades. For example, by depleting groundwater faster than it can be recharged, society is consuming this resource at the expense of future generations. Similarly, nitrate runoff from fertilizer use has created anoxic areas called dead zones around the mouths of some rivers, which in turn depletes fish stocks.
In some areas, commercial fishing has reduced the estimated mass of marine species by 90% since the industrial revolution, the report states. What's more, the report says that between 10 and 30% of Earth's current stock of mammal, bird, and amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
Ecosystem degradation can be reversed with large policy and institutional changes, the report says. One recommendation is to assign economic values to environmental benefits, such as clean water. Other suggestions include an increase in international coordination and the faster development and diffusion of less wasteful technologies.
The report says that unless ecosystem degradation is reversed, UN goals, such as halving the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, will not be achieved.
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