Global ecosystems analysis calls for changes in resource management

Increasing demands for resources are putting the earth's ecosytems under pressure with potentially devastating implications. A study from the World Resources Institute (WRI) reveals a widespread decline in the condition of the world's ecosystems and warns of the effect on human development and the welfare of species globally if these trends continue.

The WRI team of 175 contributing scientists examined coastal, forest, grassland, and freshwater and agricultural ecosystems, analysing their health on the basis of their ability to produce the goods and services that the world currently relies on. These include production of food, provision of pure and sufficient water, storage of atmospheric carbon, maintenance of biodiversity and provision of recreation and tourism opportunities.

The report points out that despite the unprecedented global access to information, decisions are taken without reference to the importance of sustaining ecosystems. It calls for dramatic changes, advocating an ecosystems approach to management of the world’s critical resources.

Led by Norbert Henninger, the team carried out a Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems (PAGE). “Overall, the analysis shows that there are considerable signs that the capacity of ecosystems to produce many of the goods and services we depend on is rapidly declining” said Henninger. “As our ecosystems decline, we are also racing against time since we lack baseline knowledge needed to properly determine their conditions.”

The report concludes that most of the ecosystems are in fair but declining condition. However the statistics charted are cause for concern:

  • half of the world’s wetlands were lost in the last 100 years
  • logging and conversion have cut the world’s forests by as much as 50%
  • some nine per cent of the world’s tree species are at risk of extinction; tropical deforestation probably exceeds 130,000 km2 per year
  • fishing fleets are 40% larger than the ocean can sustain
  • nearly 70% of the world’s major marine fish stocks are over-fished or are being fished at their biological limit
  • soil degradation has affected two-thirds of the world’s agricultural lands in the last 50 years
  • approximately 30% of the world’s original forests have been converted to agriculture
  • since 1980, the global economy has tripled in size and population has grown by 30% to 6 billion people
  • dams, diversions or canals fragment almost 60% of the world’s largest rivers
  • twenty per cent of the world’s freshwater species are extinct, threatened or endangered
  • at least 10,000 freshwater fish species are threatened globally

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