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Millennium Ecosystem Assessment finds Opportunities and Challenges for Private Sector

The fourth Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) report, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Opportunities and Challenges for Business and Industry, synthesizes and integrates findings related to both small and large businesses throughout the industrial and developing world. The 34-page report connects the dots between environmental changes and the private sector. The report highlights ways in which businesses depend on services provided by ecosystems, how those ecosystem services are changing, and the ramifications for business and industry.

“The Millennium Assessment is a user’s guide to the planet for long-term thinkers,” said Jane Lubchenco, distinguished professor at Oregon State University and co-chair of the Synthesis Team. “It is an invaluable resource for business leaders who think long term and seek to understand the threats and opportunities that will shape the economies of the future.”

Business and industry are dependent upon services provided by ecosystems. Ecosystem services include the provision of water and food, control of pests and pathogens, renewal of fertile soil, control of floods, and more. The MA’s findings that two-thirds of these services are being degraded presents real challenges as well as opportunities for business.

“The solutions of the past are often not robust enough under the conditions of global change and need to be re-thought and re-implemented,” said Antony Burgmans, chairman, Unilever N.V.

“All businesses will be more competitive if they create their strategies with the current and projected condition of ecosystems and ecosystem services in mind, and the MA provides an excellent source of information on the trends and linkages important to business,” said Steve Percy, retired CEO of BP America and co-chair of the Synthesis Team.

The authors of the synthesis report are very interested in stimulating dialogue regarding the implications of the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for business and industry. Towards that end, a number of people familiar with specific sectors of industry were asked to draft short perspectives addressing the implications of the information provided in the synthesis report for their sector. Sectors addressed at this time include agriculture, mining, oil and gas, energy and utilities, forestry and tourism.

Click here to review these perspectives:

Business and Industry Sector Perspectives on the Findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The key findings in this report are:

  • Businesses interact with ecosystems and ecosystem services in two important ways: they use services and they contribute to ecosystem change. The MA discovered that two thirds of the ecosystem services it examined are being degraded or used unsustainably.
  • If current trends continue, ecosystem services that are freely available today will cease to be available or become more costly in the near future. The higher costs that primary users may face will be passed downstream to secondary and tertiary industries and will transform the operating environment of all businesses.
  • Loss of ecosystem services will also affect the framework conditions within which businesses operate, influencing customer preferences, stockholder expectations, regulatory regimes, governmental policies, employee well-being, and the availability of finance and insurance.
  • New business opportunities will emerge as demand grows for more efficient or different ways to use ecosystem services, mitigate impacts, or to track or trade ecosystem services. Innovation and new technologies can play a key role in the creation of these new business opportunities. Many leading companies are already capitalizing on these needs and trends.
  • Business cannot assume that there will be ample warning of a change in the availability of key services. Ecosystems often change in abrupt, unpredictable ways. Most ecosystems are being altered by human actions in unprecedented ways. Consequently, it is difficult to predict the future state of an ecosystem or the availability of an ecosystem service.
  • Even though Earth’s natural capital is being eroded at a rapid rate, there is still time to lessen the impact and preserve options by building on a growing number of examples of good practice. The MA is designed to help decision-makers factor information about changes in ecosystems into their strategic planning.
  • About the MA reports

    The MA reports will include a total of seven synthesis and summary reports, and four technical volumes. An additional set of about 16 sub-global assessments will be released separately.

    A series of seven synthesis reports are designed to meet the needs of the international conventions (Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species) and also designed to meet the needs of other stakeholders, including business, civil society, and indigenous peoples.

    On March 30, 2005, the first synthesis report, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report and a statement by the MA board of directors entitled “Living Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well-being” were launched in London, Washington DC, Beijing, Brasilia, Cairo, Delhi, Lisbon, Rome, Stockholm and Tokyo.

    About the MA

    Involving some 1,360 of the world’s leading experts, the MA is a partnership among several international organizations, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Convention on Migratory Species, five UN agencies (WHO, FAO, UNESCO, UNEP, UNDP), the World Bank, and IUCN. It is supported by 22 of the world’s leading scientific bodies, including The Royal Society of the U.K. and the Third World Academy of Sciences.

    The MA’s work is overseen by a 45-member board of directors, co-chaired by Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientist of The World Bank, and Dr. A. H. Zakri, director of the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies. The multi-stakeholder board is composed of the international organizations plus government officials, the private sector, NGOs and indigenous peoples.

    The Assessment Panel, which oversees the technical work of the MA, includes 13 of the world’s leading social and natural scientists. It is co-chaired by Ms. Angela Cropper of the Cropper Foundation, and Prof. Harold Mooney of Stanford University. Dr. Walter Reid is the director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

    Major funding was provided by the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and The World Bank. The MA Secretariat is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

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