The report advocates extensive changes in the management of the global ecosystems, to stop the widespread weakening of the processes that ensure the existence of life on Earth.
All signals from the scientists that are working on establishing the health conditions of the world's ecosystems tell us that we are over exploiting these systems more than ever, and that they are deteriorating with ever increasing speed, said Bakary Kante, the director of UNEP's Division of Policy Development and Law. "We depend on the ecosystems to sustain all life on the planet. Their health and continued well being is again dependent on our treatment of them", said Kante.
The report gives the first extensive global evaluation of a variety of ecosystems, such as coastal zones, forests, grasslands, fresh water and arable land. The conditions are evaluated according to ability to sustain the production of goods and services that the world is dependant on today. This includes the production of food, access to clean fresh water, emissions of carbon to the atmosphere, maintenance of biodiversity along with the possibilities for recreation and tourism. We have focused on how much we can extract from our ecosystems for too long, but paid little attention to the benefits offered to us by these systems, said Thomas Johansson, the Director of UNDP's Energy and Atmosphere Program. The ecosystems ensure basic benefits in the form of climate control and the recycling of nutrients, which cannot be replaced at any reasonable costs.
Statistics and value calculations in People and Ecosystems portray a gloomy picture of over exploited fisheries, over consumption of water for agricultural purposes, depleted forests and coral reefs, and too much tourism The report identifies population growth and increased consumption as the two most important forces leading to a weakening of the world's ecosystems.
Without the ecosystems, the Earth would resemble the naked, lifeless images that were taken on Mars in 1997, the report says. The study recommends that governments and individuals must now take a closer look at the carrying capacity of ecosystems essential for human life. It demands an ecosystem approach to manage the Earth's scant resources. This includes assessing the carrying capacity of ecosystems to produce goods and services.
We know enough already to start the management of the ecosystems in a more sustainable way. We can win back some of the natural activity that has been lost, said Jonathan Lash, the president of WRI. Many of the "tricks" are simple and non-technical.
The report contains examples from around the world on what people do to turn the destruction of the ecosystems. In South Africa, people bring ecosystems back to their original state, by removing unwanted trees by their roots. In Dhani in India, the local people use security guards and patrolling, simple planning for harvesting, and ban on grazing as a means of getting their forests back. In Machakos, Kenya, the Akamba people collect rainwater and build terraces, a method that has been used around the world since ancient times.
Lash added that even though our knowledge of the ecosystems has increased dramatically, our ability to change them has changed even faster. Our lacking ability of thinking in ecosystem terms is due to a basic lack of information about how the ecosystems influence us and of their conditions, he said.
People and Ecosystems suggests four basic principles for an ecosystem approach:
Get a grip on the lack of information. Managing the ecosystems effectively demands a detailed understanding of its current condition and how it works.
Get an open dialogue going on goals, politics and gains. Dramatic improvements in the conditions and sustainability of the ecosystems will be within reach if governments and non-governmental organizations encourage the exchange of ideas on how the ecosystems should be managed.
Put the correct prize on the ecosystem! Removing subsidies and determine the exact prices of the services rendered by an ecosystem can be politically difficult, but may contribute to promoting a more effective use of resources.
Involve the local communities in the management of the ecosystems. The local communities are often the most sensible ecosystem managers. Involving the local community may also lead to a more fair distribution of goods and costs related to the use of the ecosystems.
To make responsible decisions in the management of our ecosystems in the 21st century, we need a dramatic change in the way we use our knowledge and experience we have now, in addition to the wide specter of further information that we will need in the time ahead, said dr. Robert T. Watson, head scientist and director of Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development in the World Bank. The report was launched at the opening of the informal meeting of ministers in Bergen, Norway 15th-17th September.
Minister of the Environment of Norway, Siri Bjerke, said that People and Ecosystems is important for anyone who is engaged in environment protection. It gives us an updated analysis of what we know today, at the start of a new millennium. -And maybe even more important -what we will be needing of more knowledge, when we start working on the global challenges ahead of us, she said.
The report is available on the Internet at http://www.wri.org/wri/wr2000
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