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Ecosystem Green Facts

Ecosystem Green Facts

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Published by: Daisy on Nov 18, 2008
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Source document:
Scientific Facts on
MA (2005)
Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2005)
Ecosystem Change
- Human well-being is highlydependent on ecosystems and theHow have ecosystems changed?..............21.How have ecosystem services and their useschanged?..............................................22.How have ecosystem changes affectedhuman well-being and povertyalleviation?...........................................33.benefits they provide such as food anddrinkable water. Over the past 50 years,however, humans have had aWhat are the most critical factors causingecosystem changes?..............................34.tremendous impact on theirenvironment.To better understand the consequencesof current changes to ecosystems andHow might ecosystems and their serviceschange in the future under various plausiblescenarios?............................................45.to evaluate scenarios for the future, UNWhy are both global and sub-globalassessments of ecosystem changeuseful?.................................................46.Secretary General Kofi Annan haslaunched a comprehensive scientificstudy, the Millennium EcosystemAssessment.How do ecosystems change over time?.....57.What options exist to manage ecosystemssustainably?..........................................58.What actions could be taken to limitharmful consequences of ecosystemdegradation?What are the most important uncertaintieshindering decision-making concerningecosystems?.........................................59.Conclusions: main findings .....................610.
This Digest is a faithful summary of the leading scientific consensus reportproduced in 2005 by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA):
"Millennium Ecosystem Assessment General Synthesis Report:"Ecosystems and Human Well-being" 
The full Digest is available at: http://www.greenfacts.org/en/ecosystems/This PDF Document is the Level 1 of a GreenFacts Digest. GreenFacts Digests are published in severallanguages as questions and answers, in a copyrighted user-friendly Three-Level Structure of increasingdetail:Each question is answered in Level 1 with a short summary.These answers are developed in more detail in Level 2.Level 3 consists of the Source document, the internationally recognised scientific consensusreport which is faithfully summarised in Level 2 and further in Level 1.
 All GreenFacts Digests are available at: http://www.greenfacts.org/ 
page 1/12Copyright © GreenFactshttp://www.greenfacts.org/
1. How have ecosystems changed?
Land cover change[see Annex 1, p. 7]
Virtually all of Earth’s ecosystems have been significantlytransformed through human actions. Changes have been especiallyrapid in the last 50 years and today the fastest changes are takingplace in developing countries. Ecosystems are particularly affectedby large-scale fishing, freshwater use, and agriculture.
Ecosystems depend on fundamental environmental cycles such as the continuouscirculation of water, carbon, and other nutrients. Human activities have modified thesecycles, especially during the last 50 years, through increases in freshwater use, carbondioxide emissions, and fertilizer use. This in turn has affected the ability of ecosystems toprovide benefits to humans.
See also GreenFacts' digeston Biodiversity [seehttp://www.greenfacts.org/en/biodiversity/index.htm]
Many animal and plant populations have declined in numbers,geographical spread, or both. For instance, a quarter of mammalspecies are currently threatened by extinction. Human activity hascaused between 50 and 1000 times more extinctions in the last100 years than would have happened due to natural processes.Increasingly, the same species are found at different locations onthe planet and the overall biodiversity is decreasing, because somerare species are lost and common ones spread to new areas.Overall, the range of genetic differences within species has declined, particularly for cropsand livestock.
2. How have ecosystem services and their uses changed?
Ecosystem services are the multiple benefits provided by ecosystems to humans.
uman use of all ecosystem services is increasing:The use o
such as food, water, and timber has increased rapidly,and continues to grow, sometimes unsustainably.Human interventions have led to changes in the
of climate, disease,and other ecosystem processes.The use of ecosystems for recreation, spiritual enrichment, and other
purposes is growing. However, the capacity of ecosystems to provide theseservices has declined significantly.
Global fish catch[seeAnnex2,p.7]
In the past, increases in the supply of resources were often achieveddespite local limitations by shifting production and harvest to new, lessexploited regions. These options are diminishing, and developingsubstitutes for services can be expensive.
Biodiversity reflects the number, variety and variability of livingorganisms in an ecosystem. Changes in biodiversity at a particular locationaffect the ability of the ecosystem to supply services and to recover fromdisturbances.
When humans modify an ecosystem to gain something, it often has negative effects onother components of ecosystems, leading to trade-offs. For instance, increased foodproduction tends to bring about reductions in biodiversity. However, conserving or enhancingparticular components of an ecosystem, for instance creating an urban park, can also leadto positive synergies improving a variety of services.
page 2/12Copyright © GreenFactshttp://www.greenfacts.org/
3. How have ecosystem changes affected human well-being and povertyalleviation?
Human well-being depends on material welfare, health, good social relations, security,and freedom. All of these are affected by changes in ecosystem services.
Collapse of the Newfoundlandcod fishery[see Annex 3, p. 9]
Ecosystem services, particularly food production, timber andfisheries, are important for employment and economic activity.Intensive use of ecosystems often produces the greatestshort-term advantage, but excessive and unsustainable use canlead to losses in the long term. A country could cut its forestsand deplete its fisheries, and this would show only as a positivegain to GDP, despite the loss of capital assets. If the full economicvalue of ecosystems were taken into account in decision-making, their degradation couldbe significantly slowed down or even reversed.
Levels of poverty remain high, and over one billion people have an income of less than$1 per day. Most of these people are very dependent on ecosystems, because they supportthemselves mainly through agriculture, grazing, and hunting. The regions facing the greatestdevelopmental challenges tend to be those having the greatest ecosystem-related problems.These include some parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Some ecosystem changes such as increased food production have helped hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but also have negative effects. Degradation of ecosystemservices is harming many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and issometimes the main factor causing poverty. Poverty in turn tends to increase dependenceon ecosystem services. This can lead to additional pressure on ecosystems and a downwardspiral of poverty and ecosystem degradation.
4. What are the most critical factors causing ecosystem changes?
Natural or human-induced factors that change ecosystems are called drivers. Habitatchange and overexploitation, for instance, are direct drivers that influence ecosystemprocesses explicitly. Indirect drivers affect ecosystems by influencing the direct drivers.
The main indirect drivers are changes in human population, economic activity, andtechnology, as well as socio-political and cultural factors. For example, world populationhas doubled in the past forty years, with most of the growth taking place in developingcountries. Pressures on ecosystems have grown in absolute terms, but the growth has beenslower than GDP growth. This is due to changing economic structures, increased efficiency,and use of substitutes for ecosystem services.
Important direct drivers include: habitat change, climate change, invasive species,overexploitation, and pollution. Habitat change occurs, for instance, when the area of landused for agriculture or cities is expanded. World climate has already changed and continuesto change, affecting temperature, rainfall, and sea levels. Commercially exploited fish stocksare probably at a historical low. Intensive use of fertilizers has polluted ecosystems withexcessive amounts of nutrients. Most direct drivers of degradation are currently stayingconstant or growing in intensity.
page 3/12Copyright © GreenFactshttp://www.greenfacts.org/

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