Friday 29 April 2005

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

A massive study by the UN co-ordinated 1360 scientiest across 95 countries to take a global inventory of the state of our ecosystems and quantify the effect that human activities are having on them. After four years, they recently published their findings.

It makes grim reading. You can read summaries from either the BBC or the Guardian or read the original report.

It makes it very, very clear we're living beyond our means. But we knew that, right? In a very interesting turn of phrase, the report talks about the "services of nature". It's a clever but apt "nature as business" metaphor. Two-thirds of these services provided by nature are being degraded by human pressure. Nature is going out of business and it's stock is falling quickly.

Three important messages from the report are worth repeating:

1) Protection of nature's services is unlikely to be a priority as long as they are perceived to be free and limitless by those using them - effective policies will be those that require natural costs to be taken into account for all economic decisions.

2) Local communities are far more likely to act in ways that conserve natural resources if they have real influence in the decisions on how they are used - and if they end up with a fairer share of the benefits.

3) Natural assets will receive far better protection if their importance is recognized in the central decision-making of governments and businesses, rather than leaving policies associated with ecosystems to relatively weak environment departments.

Well of course that's all well and good. But we're left with the fundamental problem of how we will ever make "radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision-making". To make radical changes, we all need to give up priveleges that we've taken for granted for a long time.

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