The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) is a major assessment of the effects of human activity on the environment. It popularized the termecosystem services, the benefits gained by humans from ecosystems.
During the 1990s, a need was identified by a number of international environmental organisations for a global ecosystem assessment. There had been advances in fields such asresource economics but the new findings had little effect on environmental policy. This led to the launch of the MA in 2001 with the work done over a period of four years. Over 1300 contributors from 95 countries were involved as authors.
The MA gave four main assessments:
- 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. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.
- 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. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.
- 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 ecosystem while meeting increasing demands for services can be partially met under some scenarios considered by the MA, but will involve significant changes in policies, institutions and practices that are not currently under way. Many options exist to conserve or enhance specific ecosystem services in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services.
The bottom line of the MA findings is that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. At the same time, the assessment shows that with appropriate actions it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years, but the changes in policy and practice required are substantial and not currently underway.