The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was initiated by the United Nations and was carried out from 2001 to 2005. The project involved a global assessment was carried out of  the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being with the intention of providing scientific evidence as a basis for justifying conservation and sustainable practices in these ecosystems.The project required the work of thousands of people from around the globe and has produced a mammoth amount of information about the worlds ecosystems including technical volumes and six synthesis reports, and multitude of country specific summaries.

Their research produced a wealth of information, however, their key conclusions were that:

  • “Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel.
  • The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people.
  • The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
  • The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services can be partially met under some scenarios that the MA has considered but these involve significant changes in policies, institutions and practices, that are not currently under way.”  MEA (2006)

There are a wealth of interesting maps and diagrams concerned with ecosystem change, for example:

This map shows that in 2000 cultivated systems cover 25% of the earth’s surface.

This map highlights how there is still a great deal of forest loss while some areas were in the process of recovery:

These are just two snapshots of world ecosystems produced by the assessment.

For anyone studying any aspect of the world’s ecosystems, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment website is a portal to a gigantic amount of resources:

The investigation finished in 2005 and considering over half a decade has now passed it would be interesting to see if the situation has changed. I imagine it will be a long time before a project of this scale is carried out again.

Anyway, I came across this project today while reading and thought it would be useful to note it down.

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