Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Volume 1: Current State and Trends

October 6, 2011, 7:13 am
Source: Millennium Ecosyste, Assessment
Content Cover Image

This is a report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Edited by: Rashid Hassan, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Robert Scholes, Council for Science and Industrial Research, South Africa; Neville Ash, UNEP World Conservation United Kingdom Monitoring Centre

Published: 2005, Island Press
PDF Version: Download

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Objectives, Focus, and Approach

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was carried out between 2001 and 2005 to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and to establish the scientific basis for actions needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and their contributions to human well-being. The MA responds to government requests for information received through four international conventions—the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species—and is designed to also meet needs of other stakeholders, including the business community, the health sector, nongovernmental organizations, and indigenous peoples. The sub-global assessments also aimed to meet the needs of users in the regions where they were undertaken.

The assessment focuses on the linkages between ecosystems and human well-being and, in particular, on ‘‘ecosystem services.’’ An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism communities and the nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit. The MA deals with the full range of ecosystems—from those relatively undisturbed, such as natural forests, to landscapes with mixed patterns of human use and to ecosystems intensively managed and modified by humans, such as agricultural land and urban areas. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fibre; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling. The human species, while buffered against environmental changes by culture and technology, is fundamentally dependent on the flow of ecosystem services.

The MA examines how changes in ecosystem services influence human wellbeing. Human well-being is assumed to have multiple constituents, including the basic material for a good life, such as secure and adequate livelihoods, enough food at all times, shelter, clothing, and access to goods; health, including feeling well and having a healthy physical environment, such as clean air and access to clean water; good social relations, including social cohesion, mutual respect, and the ability to help others and provide for children; security, including secure access to natural and other resources, personal safety, and security from natural and human-made disasters; and freedom of choice and action, including the opportunity to achieve what an individual values doing and being. Freedom of choice and action is influenced by other constituents of well-being (as well as by other factors, notably education) and is also a precondition for achieving other components of well-being, particularly with respect to equity and fairness.

The conceptual framework for the MA posits that people are integral parts of ecosystems and that a dynamic interaction exists between them and other parts of ecosystems, with the changing human condition driving, both directly and indirectly, changes in ecosystems and thereby causing changes in human well-being. At the same time, social, economic, and cultural factors unrelated to ecosystems alter the human condition, and many natural forces influence ecosystems. Although the MA emphasizes the linkages between ecosystems and human well-being, it recognizes that the actions people take that influence ecosystems result not just from concern about human well-being but also from considerations of the intrinsic value of species and ecosystems. Intrinsic value is the value of something in and for itself, irrespective of its utility for someone else.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment synthesizes information from the scientific literature and relevant peer-reviewed datasets and models. It incorporates knowledge held by the private sector, practitioners, local communities, and indigenous peoples. The MA did not aim to generate new primary knowledge but instead sought to add value to existing information by collating, evaluating, summarizing, interpreting, and communicating it in a useful form. Assessments like this one apply the judgment of experts to existing knowledge to provide scientifically credible answers to policy-relevant questions. The focus on policy-relevant questions and the explicit use of expert judgment distinguish this type of assessment from a scientific review. Five overarching questions, along with more detailed lists of user needs developed through discussions with stakeholders or provided by governments through international conventions, guided the issues that were assessed:

  • What are the current condition and trends of ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human well-being?
  • What are plausible future changes in ecosystems and their ecosystem services and the consequent changes in human well-being?
  • What can be done to enhance well-being and conserve ecosystems?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of response options that can be considered to realize or avoid specific futures?
  • What are the key uncertainties that hinder effective decision-making concerning ecosystems?
  • What tools and methodologies developed and used in the MA can strengthen capacity to assess ecosystems, the services they provide, their impacts on human well-being, and the strengths and weaknesses of response options?

The MA was conducted as a multiscale assessment, with interlinked assessments undertaken at local, watershed, national, regional, and global scales. A global ecosystem assessment cannot easily meet all the needs of decisionmakers at national and sub-national scales because the management of any particular ecosystem must be tailored to the particular characteristics of that ecosystem and to the demands placed on it. However, an assessment focused only on a particular ecosystem or particular nation is insufficient because some processes are global and because local goods, services, matter, and energy are often transferred across regions. Each of the component assessments was guided by the MA conceptual framework and benefited from the presence of assessments undertaken at larger and smaller scales. The sub-global assessments were not intended to serve as representative samples of all ecosystems; rather, they were to meet the needs of decision-makers at the scales at which they were undertaken. The sub-global assessments involved in the MA process are shown in the Figure and the ecosystems and ecosystem services examined in these assessments are shown in the Table.

The work of the MA was conducted through four working groups, each of which prepared a report of its findings. At the global scale, the Condition and Trends Working Group assessed the state of knowledge on ecosystems, drivers of ecosystem change, ecosystem services, and associated human wellbeing around the year 2000. The assessment aimed to be comprehensive with regard to ecosystem services, but its coverage is not exhaustive. The Scenarios Working Group considered the possible evolution of ecosystem services during the twenty-first century by developing four global scenarios exploring plausible future changes in drivers, ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human well-being. The Responses Working Group examined the strengths and weaknesses of various response options that have been used to manage ecosystem services and identified promising opportunities for improving human well-being while conserving ecosystems. The report of the Sub-global Assessments Working Group contains lessons learned from the MA sub-global assessments. The first product of the MA—Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment, published in 2003—outlined the focus, conceptual basis, and methods used in the MA. The executive summary of this publication appears as Chapter 1 of this volume.

Approximately 1,360 experts from 95 countries were involved as authors of the assessment reports, as participants in the sub-global assessments, or as members of the Board of Review Editors. The latter group, which involved 80 experts, oversaw the scientific review of the MA reports by governments and experts and ensured that all review comments were appropriately addressed by the authors. All MA findings underwent two rounds of expert and governmental review. Review comments were received from approximately 850 individuals (of which roughly 250 were submitted by authors of other chapters in the MA), although in a number of cases (particularly in the case of governments and MA-affiliated scientific organizations), people submitted collated comments that had been prepared by a number of reviewers in their governments or institutions.

The MA was guided by a Board that included representatives of five international conventions, five U.N. agencies, international scientific organizations, governments, and leaders from the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and indigenous groups. A 15-member Assessment Panel of leading social and natural scientists oversaw the technical work of the assessment, supported by a secretariat with offices in Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and Africa and coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The MA is intended to be used:

  • to identify priorities for action;
  • as a benchmark for future assessments;
  • as a framework and source of tools for assessment, planning, and management;
  • to gain foresight concerning the consequences of decisions affecting ecosystems;
  • to identify response options to achieve human development and sustainability goals;
  • to help build individual and institutional capacity to undertake integrated ecosystem assessments and act on the findings; and
  • to guide future research.

Because of the broad scope of the MA and the complexity of the interactions between social and natural systems, it proved to be difficult to provide definitive information for some of the issues addressed in the MA. Relatively few ecosystem services have been the focus of research and monitoring and, as a consequence, research findings and data are often inadequate for a detailed global assessment. Moreover, the data and information that are available are generally related to either the characteristics of the ecological system or the characteristics of the social system, not to the all-important interactions between these systems. Finally, the scientific and assessment tools and models available to undertake a cross-scale integrated assessment and to project future changes in ecosystem services are only now being developed. Despite these challenges, the MA was able to provide considerable information relevant to most of the focal questions. And by identifying gaps in data and information that prevent policy-relevant questions from being answered, the assessment can help to guide research and monitoring that may allow those questions to be answered in future assessments.


Part I: General Concepts and Analytical Approaches

  1. MA Conceptual Framework
  2. Analytical Approaches for Assessing Ecosystems and Human Well-being
  3. Drivers of Change
  4. Biodiversity
  5. Ecosystem Change and Human Wellbeing
  6. Vulnerable People and Places

    Part II: An Assessment of Ecosystem Services
  7. Freshwater Ecosystem Services
  8. Food Ecosystem Services
  9. Timber, Fuel, and Fibre Ecosystem Services
  10. Novel Products and Industries from Biodiversity
  11. Biological Regulation of Ecosystem Services
  12. Nutrient Cycling
  13. Air Quality and Climate
  14. Human Infectious Disease Agents
  15. Waste Processing and Detoxification
  16. Regulation of Natural Hazards
  17. Cultural and Amenity Services

    Part III: An Assessment of Systems from which Ecosystem Services Are Derived
  18. Marine Systems
  19. Coastal Systems
  20. Inland Water Systems
  21. Forest and Woodland Systems
  22. Dryland Systems
  23. Island Systems
  24. Mountain Systems
  25. Polar Systems
  26. Cultivated Systems
  27. Urban Systems

    Part IV: Synthesis
  28. Synthesis


The Condition and Trends Working Group assessed the changing conditions of ecosystems and their services, the causes of changes to ecosystems, and the consequences of ecosystem change for human wellbeing. It considered terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems, and a range of ecosystem services, including food, timber, air quality regulation, nutrient cycling, detoxification, recreation and aesthetic services.

As a contribution to the MA Condition Working Group, the Land Use and Cover Change Project (LUCC) of IGBP/IHDP and the Global Observations of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC/GOLD) collaborated with the MA to develop a project showing areas of rapid land cover change over the last two decades.

The Condition and Trends Working Group found that over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth. In addition, approximately 60% (15 out of 24) of the ecosystem services it examined are being degraded or used unsustainably, including fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water purification, and the regulation of regional and local climate, natural hazards, and pests.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board

Robert T. Watson, Chief Scientist, The World Bank
A.H. Zakri, Director, Institute of Advanced Studies, United Nations University

Institutional Representatives
Salvatore Arico, Programme Officer, Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Peter Bridgewater, Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
Hama Arba Diallo, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Adel El-Beltagy, Director General, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
Max Finlayson, Chair, Scientific and Technical Review Panel, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
Colin Galbraith, Chair, Scientific Council, Convention on Migratory Species
Erika Harms, Senior Program Officer for Biodiversity, United Nations Foundation
Robert Hepworth, Acting Executive Secretary, Convention on Migratory Species
Olav Kjørven, Director, Energy and Environment Group, United Nations Development Programme
Kerstin Leitner, Assistant Director-General, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments, World Health Organization
Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Chair, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Convention on Biological Diversity
Christian Prip, Chair, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Convention on Biological Diversity
Mario A. Ramos, Biodiversity Program Manager, Global Environment Facility
Thomas Rosswall, Executive Director, International Council for Science - ICSU
Achim Steiner, Director General, IUCN - The World Conservation Union
Halldor Thorgeirsson, Coordinator, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme
Jeff Tschirley, Chief, Environmental and Natural Resources Service, Research, Extension and Training Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Riccardo Valentini, Chair, Committee on Science and Technology, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity

At-large Members
Fernando Almeida, Executive President, Business Council for Sustainable Development-Brazil
Phoebe Barnard, Global Invasive Species Programme, South Africa
Gordana Beltram, Undersecretary, Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, Slovenia
Delmar Blasco, Former Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Spain
Antony Burgmans, Chairman, Unilever N.V., Netherlands
Esther Camac-Ramirez, Asociación Ixä Ca Vaá de Desarrollo e Información Indigena, Costa Rica
Angela Cropper (ex officio), President, The Cropper Foundation, Trinidad and Tobago
Partha Dasgupta, Professor, Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
José María Figueres, Fundación Costa Rica para el Desarrollo Sostenible, Costa Rica
Fred Fortier, Indigenous Peoples’ Biodiversity Information Network, Canada
Mohamed H.A. Hassan, Executive Director, Third World Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Italy
Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute, United States
Wangari Maathai, Vice Minister for Environment, Kenya
Paul Maro, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Harold A. Mooney (ex officio), Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, United States
Marina Motovilova, Faculty of Geography, Laboratory of Moscow Region, Russia
M.K. Prasad, Environment Centre of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, India
Walter V. Reid, Director, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Malaysia and United States
Henry Schacht, Past Chairman of the Board, Lucent Technologies, United States
Peter Johan Schei, Director, The Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway
Ismail Serageldin, President, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt
David Suzuki, Chair, David Suzuki Foundation, Canada
M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, India
José Galízia Tundisi, President, International Institute of Ecology, Brazil
Axel Wenblad, Vice President Environmental Affairs, Skanska AB, Sweden
Xu Guanhua, Minister, Ministry of Science and Technology, China
Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Panel

Harold A. Mooney (co-chair), Stanford University, United States
Angela Cropper (co-chair), The Cropper Foundation, Trinidad and Tobago
Doris Capistrano, Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia
Stephen R. Carpenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
Kanchan Chopra, Institute of Economic Growth, India
Partha Dasgupta, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
Rik Leemans, Wageningen University, Netherlands
Robert M. May, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Prabhu Pingali, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Italy
Rashid Hassan, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Cristián Samper, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, United States
Robert Scholes, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa
Robert T. Watson, The World Bank, United States (ex officio)
A. H. Zakri, United Nations University, Japan (ex officio)
Zhao Shidong, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Editorial Board Chairs
José Sarukhán, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico
Anne Whyte, Mestor Associates Ltd., Canada

MA Director
Walter V. Reid, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Malaysia and United States Millennium Ecosystem

Secretariat Support Organizations
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) coordinates the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Secretariat, which is based at the following partner institutions:

  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Italy
  • Institute of Economic Growth, India
  • International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico (until 2002)
  • Meridian Institute, United States
  • National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Netherlands (until mid-2004)
  • Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), France
  • UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, United Kingdom
  • University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
  • World Resources Institute (WRI), United States
  • WorldFish Center, Malaysia


The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Series

Synthesis Reports (available at

Terms of Use

The copyright for material on this page is the property of the World Resources Institute. Click here for the terms of use.

Disclaimer: This chapter is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally written for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as published by the World Resources Institute. The content has not been modified by the Encyclopedia of Earth.



(2011). Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Volume 1: Current State and Trends. Retrieved from


To add a comment, please Log In.