Azara Blog: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment paints bleak picture of the world

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Date published: 2005/05/23

The BBC says:

If we continue with current rates of species extinction, we will have no chance of rolling back poverty and the lives of all humans will be diminished.

That is the stark warning to come out of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the most comprehensive audit of the health of our planet to date.

Organisms are disappearing at something like 100 to 1,000 times the "background levels" seen in the fossil record.

Scientists warn that removing so many species puts our own existence at risk.

It will certainly make it much harder to lift the world's poor out of hardship given that these people are often the most vulnerable to ecosystem degradation, the researchers say.

The message is written large in Ecosystems and Human Well-being: the Biodiversity Synthesis Report.

It is the latest in a series of detailed documents to come out of the MA, a remarkable tome drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over four years.
In 2002, world governments, through the Convention on Biological Diversity, set themselves the target of making a "substantial reduction in the rate of loss of biological diversity" by 2010.

The MA illustrates just how tough it will be to meet that target. What is more, there may even be occasions when progress towards that target conflicts with the even loftier 2015 Millennium Development Goals of cutting into world hunger and poverty, and improving healthcare.

A classic example is the development of rural road networks - a common feature of hunger reduction strategies - which are likely also to accelerate rates of biodiversity loss by fragmenting habitats and by opening up new areas to unsustainable harvests.

This sort of thing has been well documented in Africa where the bushmeat trade that endangers many species follows the development of transport infrastructure.

"This is a very important issue," said Dr Mace [the director of science at the Institute of Zoology, in London]. "It's clear there are going to have to be trade-offs and compromises but it's not a simple relationship. It's not a case that you can have 20% poverty and 80% biodiversity.

"If you do things the right way, if you chose the right options for poverty alleviation, you can also maximise biodiversity and sustainability."

And Dr Neville Ash, another MA synthesis team member, added: "The bottom line is that you cannot achieve long-term poverty alleviation without sustainability.

"In order to reduce hunger and poverty and increase access to clean water and sanitation, we need to have a strong base of environmental sustainability which is providing these services on which people rely for their well-being."
The MA has identified possible solutions - from significant shifts in consumption patterns and better education, to the adoption of new technologies and a large increase in the areas enjoying protection.
"Most of the approaches to achieving more sympathetic management of the natural environment and the conservation of biodiversity - I think we and governments know them already," commented Graham Wynne, the chief executive of the UK bird conservation group, the RSPB.

"The real challenge is to deploy them more extensively and more intelligently.

"And you can't get away from the fact that we simply need more money.

"The sums of money we throw at the environment in the West are relatively modest; and the sums of money the West is prepared to devote to developing countries is pitiful."

Another end of the world report. And nothing new. The number one problem, that there are too many humans, does not even get a mention, but this is the root of all the issues. What they are proposing instead is that the citizens of the rich world be made much poorer than they are today. (As implied by the statements that we need "significant shifts in consumption patterns" and that "we simply need more money", i.e. the citizens need less.) And the citizens of the poor world better not expect to get much richer (i.e. consume more). Nothing positive is offered here except for a few bland Mom and apple pie phrases such as "maximise biodiversity and sustainability" and "more sympathetic management of the natural environment". They better do a better job of convincing the rest of the world that they have some real, practical, answers which make the lives of most people better instead of worse.

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