Press Releases March 2005 - Earth’s Ecosystems Crucial for Economic, Social, & Spiritual Stability - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Earth’s Ecosystems Crucial for Economic, Social, & Spiritual Stability

UNEP Urges Better Conservation of the Planet’s Life-Support Systems for Fighting Poverty, Delivering Growth and Meeting the Millennium Development Goals

Beijing/Nairobi, 30 March 2005 - The value of the world’s forests, wetlands, coral reefs and other ecosystems for fighting poverty and delivering sustainable development is spotlighted today in an international report.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment makes the case that ecosystems and the services they provide are financially significant and that to degrade and damage them is tantamount to economic suicide, said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Assessment, in which UNEP has played a key role, makes it clear that humankind is running down its ‘natural capital’.

It argues that the loss of natural services, such as the purification of the air and water, protection from disasters and provision of medicines, as a result of damaged and degraded ecosystems have become a significant barrier in the quest to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Mr. Toepfer, attending the launch of the report in Beijing, China, said: "There are many pressing reasons to value ecosystems and the extraordinary range of services they provide. The habitats, wildlife and landscapes of this planet are sources of beauty, focuses of spirituality and culturally significant for people, communities and countries”.

“They are also, and this is especially true for the poor, the basis of livelihoods from forestry and fishing to farming and tourism. For too long their economic value has been ignored. Ecosystem services have been treated as free and their exploitation, limitless,” he said.

“The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment gives us, in some ways for the first time, an insight into the economic importance of ecosystem services and some new and additional arguments for respecting and conserving the Earth’s life support systems. I am not one of those who believe everything in this world should be boiled down to dollars and cents. But these estimated values are a good start and are a useful and additional reason to care for and respect natural capital alongside financial and human capital,” said Mr. Toepfer.

He also praised the methodology of the Assessment noting that it was a departure from the traditional methods that focus on counting individual species and then monitoring their ups and downs.

Mr. Toepfer said he believed that assessing ecosystems offered a better way of meeting the targets and timetables of the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation.

This calls for a reversal of the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.

Some Highlights

The report, the work of over 1,300 experts, claims that intact and healthy ecosystems are often worth more than altered, damaged and degraded ones.

Wetlands are important habitats for fish, birds and plants. They are also natural water pollution filters and water storage facilities. They also have high recreational value.

The report claims that an intact wetland, in this case in Canada, is worth $6,000 a hectare whereas one that has been cleared for intensive agriculture is worth only around $2,000 a hectare.

The same argument is made for intact mangroves versus the same area cleared for shrimp farming--$1,000 a hectare in Thailand versus about $200 a hectare when cleared for aquaculture.

The report estimates the recreational value of ecosystem services by citing the case of Marine Management Areas in Hawaii. It claims that among six of these areas the recreational value ranges from $300,00 to $35 million.

The 3,000 hectare Muthurajawela Marsh in Sri Lanka, a coastal peat bog, is valued at $5 million a year for the flood control services it provides locally.

The report also looks at the costs of damaging and degrading ecosystems.

It cites the collapse in the early 1990s of the Newfoundland cod fishery due to over-fishing. This put tens of thousands of people out of work and cost $2 billion in income support and retraining.

Eutrophication in England and Wales as a result of the over-use of fertilizers and other sources such as waste water caused damage to freshwaters amounting to up to $160 million a year in the 1990s.

The burning of 10 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests in the late 1990s, cost an estimated $9 billion in increased health care, lost production and lost tourism revenues, says the report.

The net annual loss linked with invasive, ‘alien’, species in the Cape Floral region of South Africa is estimated at $93 million.

The report says the costs of restoring ecosystems can be high, indicating that it is cheaper to conserve them rather than pollute and clean up afterwards.

The State of Louisiana in the United States has put in place a $14 billion wetland restoration plan to protect 10,000 square kilometres of marsh, swamp and barrier islands in part to reduce storm surges generated by hurricanes.

The report also argues that human security is also at risk from ecosystem decline. It argues that the severity and frequency of floods and fires has been aggravated by damage to the Earth’s natural capital.

For example between 1990 and 1999, more than 100,000 people were killed by floods causing damages totaling $243 billion. This is partly blamed on the canalisation of rivers and other natural water bodies.

For more information please contact Eric Falt Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, Tel: 254 20 623292, E-mail or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail

UNEP News Release 2005/18




Further Resources

MA Synthesis reports

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Message of the UN Secretary General (pdf)
at the Launch of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 30 March 2005

Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)

UNEP and the Millenium Development Goals

Global Environment Facility (GEF)

Scientific Facts on Ecosystem Change

Ecosystem Assessment Will Enable Policymakers to Make Informed Decisions about Earth’s Life Support
Global Environment Facility (GEF) Press Release (30 March 2005)

Asian Tsunami disaster

UN Secretary-General Launches Report on Millenium Development Goals
UNEP Press Release (21 March 2005)

Los Ecosistemas de la Tierra Son Cruciales para la Estabilidad Económica, Social y Espiritual
Spanish version


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