[Introduction ]


“Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth”
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report (2005)

Ecosystems management
is an approach to natural resource management that focuses on sustaining ecosystems to meet both ecological and human needs in the future. Ecosystem management is adaptive to changing needs and new information. It promotes shared vision of a desired future by integrating social, environmental and economic perspectives to managing geographically defined natural ecological systems.

Ecosystems promote human well being through the various services they provide.

One of the six priorities of the UNEP medium‑term strategy for 2010–2013 is that “countries utilize the ecosystem approach to enhance human well-being”. The UNEP Ecosystem Management Programme is centred on the functioning and resilience of the ecosystems and the services they provide. The programme aims to support countries and regions to:

  1. increasingly integrate an ecosystem management approach into development and planning processes;
  2. acquire the capacity to use ecosystem management tools; and
  3. realign their environmental programmes and financing to tackle the degradation of selected priority ecosystem  services.

The programme is guided by five major interlinked elements: human well-being, indirect and direct drivers of change, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services. As ecosystem services are interlinked and cannot be treated in isolation, UNEP promotes a holistic perspective for dealing with bundles of interlinked services to reverse their decline through improved ecosystem functioning and increased resilience. The services fall under the following categories: regulating, provisioning, supporting and cultural services

The UNEP programme focuses on 11 of the 15 degraded ecosystem services mainly comprising:
Regulating services: climate, water, natural hazard and disease regulation, water purification and waste treatment, which are often strongly affected by the overuse of provisioning services;
Provisioning services: freshwater, energy (especially the emerging issues around biofuel production) and capture fisheries;
Cultural services: Recreation and ecotourism service;
Supporting services: nutrient cycling and primary production which underlie the delivery of all the other services but are not directly accessible to people.

Selection of Key Ecosystem Services

Fig. 1. Schematic representation of the ecosystem services selected by UNEP, as categorized in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (regulating, provisioning, supporting and cultural services).

UNEP provides specialized expertise from different disciplines. These include:

  •  Assessment and monitoring (e.g., indicators, research and access to knowledge);
  •  Risk management;
  • Management tools e.g., conservation and protection, restoration, sustainable management, legislation, certification;
  • Ecosystem economics e.g., payments for ecosystem services, incentives and financing mechanisms, valuation, equity and fairness principles;
  • Governance e.g., international agreements, legislation, policies; and
  • Capacity-building and technology support.

 See more on UNEP's work at the Ecosystem Management Fact Sheet