ICSU launches new program to understand the human impact on Earth's life-support systems

October 22, 2008

Maputo, Mozambique--The global scientific community has approved a new international research programme designed to understand the relationship between humans and the ecosystems that provide essential life-supporting services. The decision was made today at the General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and should help provide the scientific knowledge needed to ensure the sustainable use of our valuable ecosystems.

Ecosystems provide benefits essential for life on Earth (food, water shelter, habitat, recovery of nutrients, soil formation and retention) as well as cultural and recreational services (spiritual, aesthetic, educational and eco-tourism). In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) reported that, because of human actions, more than 60% of ecosystem services were degraded or being used unsustainably.

'Climate change, pollution, changes in land-use, and invasive species, coupled with population growth, increased consumption, globalization and urbanization, have put enormous pressure on the environment to provide the services that we need,' said Hal Mooney of the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University in California and chair of the expert group recommending the new programme.

'Unless we do something now, the tide of destruction will continue, causing catastrophic loss of biodiversity, widespread poverty and economic crisis.'

While the MA provided a baseline of where society is at in relation to its use of the resources that support us all, there is an enormous amount of research that still needs to be done, particularly in the knowledge areas that were severely lacking when the MA was being carried out.

ICSU--along with UNESCO and the United Nations University--has taken the lead on this and will establish 'Ecosystem Change and Human Well-being', a major international programme to help fill some of those knowledge gaps. But this research needs to be done now for it to be part of a second MA, if it were to take place in the next 5-7 years.

Mooney said, 'This programme will engage people outside of the science to set the agenda and use a participatory approach to decide on priorities. That way this programme will be well positioned to answer the policy relevant questions so that changes can be made before it's too late'.

This programme is important not just to feed into an assessment but also because the science itself is important. It links both natural and social sciences with ecosystem services and integrates the three pillars of sustainable development--environment, economic and social.

'Taking an ecosystem services-based approach makes it clear that alleviating poverty and protecting the environment are parts of the same human development agenda, not adversaries', said Bob Scholes, a systems ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.

'Developing countries, especially those in Africa, have a choice on how they raise the overall wealth of their people: once-off by destroying their abundant natural capital, or sustainably by responsible use.'
-end-
Media enquiries

Jacinta Legg, Science Communications Officer, ICSU. jacinta.legg@icsu.org, Tel: +33 1 45255777. For journalists at the General Assembly, contact: Gisbert Glaser, Tel: +33 6 32310027.

The 29th ICSU GA and associated events are being hosted by AICIMO--the ICSU National Scientific Member in Mozambique--under the auspices of the Government of Mozambique and in cooperation with the ICSU Regional Office for Africa. For more information and details of the GA programme: www.icsu.org/3_mediacentre/GA_29.html

International Council for Science

Related Ecosystems Articles from Brightsurf:

Radical changes in ecosystems
Earth and all the living organisms on it are constantly changing.

Global warming will cause ecosystems to produce more methane than first predicted
New research suggests that as the Earth warms natural ecosystems such as freshwaters will release more methane than expected from predictions based on temperature increases alone.

Fresh groundwater flow important for coastal ecosystems
Groundwater is the largest source of freshwater, one of the world's most precious natural resources and vital for crops and drinking water.

Re-thinking 'tipping points' in ecosystems and beyond
Abrupt environmental changes, known as regime shifts, are the subject of new research in which shows how small environmental changes trigger slow evolutionary processes that eventually precipitate collapse.

Even after death, animals are important in ecosystems
Animal carcasses play an important role in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Natural ecosystems protect against climate change
The identification of natural carbon sinks and understanding how they work is critical if humans are to mitigate global climate change.

Viruses as modulators of interactions in marine ecosystems
Viruses are mainly known as pathogens - often causing death.

How to prevent mosquitofish from spreading in water ecosystems
Preventing the introduction of the mosquitofish and removing its population are the most effective actions to control the dispersal of this exotic fish in ponds and lakes, according to a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Mount Kilimanjaro: Ecosystems in global change
Land use in tropical mountain regions leads to considerable changes of biodiversity and ecological functions.

The fiddlers influencing mangrove ecosystems
The types of bacteria living in and around fiddler crab burrows vary widely between mangroves, but their functional activities are remarkably similar.

Read More: Ecosystems News and Ecosystems Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.