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Ecosystems and human well being

Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems faster and more extensively than in any period in human history. That is one of four main conclusions to emerge from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a comprehensive review of the impact of human activities on the state of the world’s biodiversity.

Changes to ecosystems are due largely to rapidly growing demands for food, freshwater, timber, fibre, and fuel, the report says. The result has been a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth, it adds.

The other main conclusions to emerge from the report are:

  • Changes to ecosystems have contributed to substantial gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs. These costs include the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of abrupt changes, and increased poverty for some groups of people.
  • Degradation of ecosystem services could get significantly worse during the next 50 years and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals10.4.
  • Reversing ecosystem degradation while meeting increasing demands for ecosystem services will be a challenge. This challenge can be partially met in the future under scenarios involving significant changes to policies, institutions, and practices. However, these required actions will have to be substantial when compared to the actions currently taken.