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H. Simons

Henk Simons is an ecologist
working with the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment. He is based
at the Office for Environmental
Assessment, National Institute of
Public Health and the Environment
(RIVM), the Netherlands.

The world's ecosystems - farmlands, forests, grasslands, rivers and oceans - tend to be afterthoughts in development planning. Yet ecosystems are every nation's largest water supply utility, most nations' largest food production enterprise, the primary source of energy for one-third of the world's people and the ultimate "safety net" for many of the world's poorest people. If they are mismanaged, resulting problems such as disease, floods and landslides pose a threat to livelihoods. The condition of a nation's ecosystems is no less important to its development than the condition of its educational or economic systems.


The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, implemented since April 2001, is a four-year process designed to contribute to improvement of the management of the world's natural and managed ecosystems. The assessment will provide decision-makers and the public with relevant scientific information on the condition of ecosystems, expected consequences of ecosystem change and options for response. The assessment is conducted through a partnership of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), FAO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Fish Centre (ICLARM) and the World Resources Institute (WRI). It is governed by a Board representing the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment users.

The assessment will provide the scientific underpinning to a wide range of national and international efforts to address environmental and developmental challenges, demonstrating for decision-makers the linkages among climate, biodiversity, freshwater, marine and forest issues. The Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat have endorsed its establishment as a joint assessment process to meet some of their information needs.

Since most decisions affecting ecosystems and human development are made at the national and community level, the assessment will include a number of linked assessments undertaken at the local, watershed, national and regional scales. To date, subglobal assessments have been approved for Norway, western China, southern Africa, Central America, India, Papua New Guinea and Sweden.


Biodiversity is a characteristic that underpins the potential of many ecosystems to provide goods and services sustainedly (although there are ecosystems dominated by, or consisting of, a single species which may be sustainably managed), and as such it is one of the focuses of the assessment.

In relation to forest ecosystems, the assessment will provide an overview of the current extent and trends of forests and forest changes using the best available information (FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 and other sources). It will address questions about the ways in which forests are modified and the extent to which changes are reversible; the major uncertainties or gaps in current knowledge; the status of and trends in forest biodiversity; and the supply of and demand for forest-based services such as wood, fuel, non-wood forest products, water and tourism. In addition, the assessment will examine synergies, trade-offs and conflicts that occur in the provision of these services. Finally, the consequent impacts on other ecosystems will be assessed.

The assessment will then identify the available policies and strategies that would help improve the management of forests, conserve their biodiversity better and at the same time increase human well-being. This process will involve evaluation of strategies such as integrated conservation and development approaches, management of protected areas, community-based forest management and structural adjustment policies. Plausible scenarios will be developed, describing future options of supply and demand of forest-based services, their impacts on forests and other ecosystems and the impacts on human well-being.




The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is carried out through four expert working groups focusing on conditions and trends, scenarios, response options and subglobal assessments. Each working group is co-chaired by leading natural and social scientists from industrial and developing countries. In its first year, work is focused on the development of an internally consistent set of methodologies for conducting the assessment at different scales. All of the assessment findings will undergo extensive peer review. Reviewers from around the world will be nominated by scientists, governments, business and civil society.

The assessment will be closely coordinated with other global ecosystem assessments, including the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook, the Global International Waters Assessment, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment. The assessment will include new analyses, but it is not a research project. Instead, it is a mechanism to bring findings of research and monitoring to bear on decision-makers' needs. The assessment will work closely with research programmes such as the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) and with monitoring activities, including the Long Term Ecological Research Network and the Global Observing System.

The following institutions provide core administrative, logistical and technical support to undertake the assessment: UNEP; the World Fish Centre (ICLARM); the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre; the International Council for Science (ISCU) Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE); the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands; the Institute for Economic Growth (IEG); the World Resources Institute (WRI); and the Meridian Institute. The core budget for the assessment is US$21 million to US$30 million for the four-year process.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment will produce a series of edited volumes and technical reports documenting the scientific findings of the global and subglobal assessments. In addition, a set of summaries targeting specific audiences will be produced and briefings and workshops will be held to communicate the findings to the users. The broader public will be reached through the Internet. The assessment will establish networks of experts, develop and disseminate methods, tools and data and strengthen the expertise of individuals and institutions undertaking integrated ecosystem assessments.

For more information, visit the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Web site:

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