Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Project Summary


[This is a reprint of the attractive brochure produced by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment secretariat. Note that some parts of this project summary have since become out of date, and for the most recent information readers should consult the MA Web site, which is updated regularly.]

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United Nations Environment Programme

Convention on Biological Diversity

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Convention to Combat Desertification

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Strengthening Capacity to Manage Ecosystems Sustainably for Human Well-Being

Project Summary

September 2000

Human beings are one among an estimated ten to fifteen million species on Earth. For most of our existence, we have been deeply embedded in and dependent on the natural world for our survival. With explosive speed, the scale of human impact on this natural world underwent a radical change in the past century. As a result of increases in human number and consumptive demand, combined with new technologies and an increasingly global economy, we now are altering the biological, physical and chemical futures of the planet on a geological scale. No species over the past 4 billion years has ever possessed that capacity. Unwittingly, the collective impact of human activity is undermining the support systems of life on Earth.

Yet we remain deeply dependent on the world's natural and managed ecosystems for our survival. Earth’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems meet fundamental human needs for food, water, fiber, and fuel, provide services such as water purification, and strongly influence human health, economic development, and livelihoods. Ecosystems are both the product of and the home for Earth's diversity of living species. For many people, this diversity of life is also part of their spiritual and cultural heritage.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is an outstanding example of the sort of international scientific and political cooperation that is needed to further the cause of sustainable development. …I call on Member States to help provide the necessary financial support for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and to become actively engaged in it.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi A. Annan, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century. April 2000

In light of growing human needs and the vast changes humans are making in ecosystems, it is imperative that wise choices be made in the use and conservation of these ecosystems. The challenge of effectively managing Earth’s ecosystems and the consequences of failure will continue to increase during the 21st century. To meet this challenge, people must have a better understanding and awareness of the way their lifestyles and activities affect the ecosystem services on which they depend, and decision-makers need much greater access to scientific knowledge in order to make well-informed decisions. In short, we must bring dramatically more information to bear on resource management decisions at all scales–global, national, and local.

Scale of Change
Some 40 to 50 percent of land has been transformed by human actions; an additional one-third of land cover is likely to be transformed over the next 100 years.
Human actions account for the addition of more biologically active nitrogen to ecosystems than all natural pathways combined.
Humans appropriate 54 percent of accessible freshwater runoff.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) is a four-year process designed to improve the management of the world's natural and managed ecosystems by helping to meet the needs of decision-makers and the public for peer-reviewed, policy-relevant scientific information on the condition of ecosystems, consequences of ecosystem change, and options for response. The MA will provide information and also build human and institutional capacity to provide information. More specifically, the MA will:

  • Significantly increase understanding of the linkage between ecosystems and the goods and services they provide;
  • Build human capacity and the capacity of global, regional, national and local institutions to undertake integrated ecosystem assessments and act on their findings;
  • Strengthen international environmental agreements and improve environment-related decisions of national governments by improving access to the best scientific information;
  • Support ten regional, national, and local integrated assessments that will directly contribute to planning and capacity-building needs;
  • Enhance civil society efforts to promote sustainable development by enabling ready access to peer-reviewed data and information;
  • Increase the incentives and information available to guide change in private sector actions;
  • Develop methodologies to undertake cross-sectoral assessments and to effectively integrate information across scales;
  • Identify important areas of scientific uncertainty and data gaps that hinder decision-making and deserve greater research support.

The MA will provide the scientific underpinning to a wide range of national and international efforts to address environment and development challenges. These environmental challenges are interwoven, and thus an integrative assessment process is needed to highlight for decisionmakers the linkages among climate, biodiversity, freshwater, marine and forest issues. The Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Convention on Wetlands all have endorsed the establishment of the MA as a joint assessment process to meet some of the information needs of the conventions.

The MA will be undertaken at multiple spatial scales. It consists of a global assessment as well as ten assessments of conditions and change in ecosystems in individual communities, nations, and regions. Assessments at these sub-global scales are needed because ecosystems are highly differentiated in space and time and because sound management requires careful local planning and action. Local assessments alone are insufficient, however, because some processes are global and because local goods, services, matter, and energy are often transferred across regions. The local, national, and regional assessments will be designed to foster and build capacity for widespread adoption of integrated assessment approaches in other regions and nations.


Global Environment Facility
United Nations Foundation
The World Bank

Additional Support

The Avina Group
David & Lucile Packard Foundation
Government of Norway
Rockefeller Foundation
Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)
Summit Foundation
US Agency for International Development
Wallace Global Fund


A primary audience for the global findings of the MA will be the parties to the ecosystem-related conventions. A "Summary for Policymakers" will be prepared for these conventions, approved by the MA Board, and then submitted to the conventions' scientific bodies. Parties to the conventions will then determine which findings will be formally accepted into the individual convention process, based on their specific information needs.

Other important audiences include national governments, NGOs, civil society, business, indigenous peoples, and the media. Representatives of the conventions and other audiences will determine the specific focus and products of the MA through their representation on the Board. An Advisory Group of some 80 individuals from 35 countries has been established and the MA will also establish links to the national focal points for the ecosystem-related conventions in all nations.

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The global assessment and each of the ten local, national, and regional assessments will respond to decision-makers’ needs by:

  • Providing information requested by decision-makers. More specifically, by:
  1. Assessing condition, pressures, trends and change in ecosystems and the current economic and public health consequences of those changes. For example, the MA might address the question: Where do we see evidence that the biological capability of agroecosystems to produce food is declining?
  2. Assessing the state of scientific knowledge. For example, the MA might address the question: How well can scientists predict when "threshold" responses of ecosystems (that is, sudden and dramatic changes) might occur in response to species loss, increased nitrogen input, or invasive species?
  3. Assessing the ecosystem (and consequent economic and public health) impacts of plausible future scenarios of change in "driving forces," such as population, consumption, climate, technology and economic growth. For example, the MA might address the question: What are the consequences for biodiversity conservation in forests and freshwater ecosystems and the availability of clean water under two different scenarios for increasing agricultural production in a particular region – one relying on expansion into forested areas, and one relying on increased intensification through fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides?
  4. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of various policy, legislative, technological, or other actions that have been taken or proposed to improve the management of ecosystems.
  • Building human and institutional capacity. The specific capacity needs will be identified during the first year of the MA, but capacity building is likely to take place through at least the following basic approaches:
  1. Increasing skills and expertise of the individuals and institutions involved in all scales of the MA;
  2. Increasing access to technical tools and scientific models for undertaking integrated assessments by all interested experts and institutions;
  3. Increasing access to data and indicators for use in local and national assessments;
  4. Developing and disseminating new approaches for linking local level expertise and assessments with national, regional, and global expertise and assessments;
  5. Increasing experience with the design of assessments that fully involve "stakeholders" at the local, national, and regional scale;
  6. Increasing international stature and access to international sources of support.

The findings of the global and sub-global assessments will be presented in technical reports, accompanied by summaries targeted at specific audiences. The reports and summaries will be widely disseminated in multiple languages. In addition to the printed products, the MA will reach a broad public audience through a dynamic outreach strategy involving workshops, briefings, and extensive use of the Internet.

Assessment Process

Technical Experts. The MA will be carried out through expert working groups focused on design, conditions, scenarios, response options, sub-global assessments, and outreach (see box on p. 4). Each working group will be co-chaired by leading natural and social scientists from industrial and developing countries. The working groups will contain a geographically balanced group of experts from universities, the private sector, government, and civil society. The working group co-chairs will constitute the Ecosystem Assessment Panel. The MA Board will select the working group chairs and will review the working group composition to ensure an appropriate regional, technical and gender balance.

Working Groups

1. Design Working Group
The MA will develop an internally consistent set of methodologies for conducting the assessment at local, national, regional and global scales.

2. Current Ecosystem Extent, Trends, Conditions and Value Working Group
The MA will provide "baseline" information on the geographic extent of different ecosystems—including terrestrial, freshwater, and marine—and the patterns of use associated with them. It will present information on trends in ecosystem goods and services, their conditions and value, their contributions to human development, and the pressures affecting them.

3. Ecosystem Scenarios Working Group
The MA will present a range of plausible scenarios for how the quantity and quality of ecosystem goods and services may change in coming decades in different regions of the world and how this will affect human health and economic development. It will assess the trade-offs among various goods and services.

4. Response Options Working Group
The MA will identify policy, institutional, legislative or technological changes that could improve the management of ecosystems, thereby increasing their contributions to development and maintaining their long-term sustainability.

5. Local, National and Regional Assessment Working Group
The MA will involve a set of ten assessments at local, national and regional scales; each will examine conditions, scenarios, and response options

6. Outreach & Engagement Working Group
The MA will design and implement a process for engaging users in the MA and communicating the findings in ways that meets users’ needs.

Design and Methods. In its first year, the MA will focus on the development of an internally consistent set of methodologies for conducting the assessment at local, national, regional, and global scales. The methodologies will define the information that will be produced, questions that will be answered, and capacity needs that will be filled, as well as the products and outreach strategy. The methodologies will identify both common design elements to be applied at all scales from local to global, and features unique to different scales.

Peer Review. All of the assessment findings will undergo extensive peer review. Reviewers from all countries will be nominated by scientists, governments, business, and civil society. The review process will be developed and overseen by the MA Board and an independent review body. The review process will be tailored to the unique characteristics of the different scales of the assessment. For example, because the local assessments will rely heavily on unpublished local expertise and knowledge, the peer review process for local assessments will differ from that used for the global component.

Linkages with Research and Assessment Activities. The MA will be closely coordinated with other global assessments, including the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook, the Global International Waters Assessment, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It will be designed to strengthen planned and ongoing assessment activities and sustainable development planning activities at regional and national levels. The MA will include new analyses, but it is not a research project. Instead, the MA is a mechanism to bring the findings of research and monitoring to bear on decision-makers' needs. The MA will work closely with research programs such as the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) and with monitoring activities, including the Long Term Ecological Research Network and the Global Observing System.

Institutional Arrangements

At least six different institutions will provide core administrative, logistical, and technical support to the MA process. These institutions will provide support as needed to the working groups that will undertake the assessment. The United Nations Environment Programme will handle the administration of the core financial support and employ the Director, who will be co-located with the developing country co-chair. The UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre will support Working Group #2 and the ICSU Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) will support Working Group #3. Developing country institutions will be selected to support Working Groups #4 and #5. The World Resources Institute, in partnership with the Meridian Institute, will support Working Group #6. Collectively, the staff assigned to the MA at these various support institutions will form a "distributed" secretariat.


The core budget for the MA is $5 million per year for the four-year process, comparable to the cost of the climate assessments undertaken by the IPCC. The budget supports the secretariat and working group staff, working group meetings, data purchases, communications, outreach, and limited analysis. One-third of this budget supports the local, national, and regional assessments. Most of the time of experts involved in the assessment will be covered by their home institutions. As of August 2000, commitments of support total approximately $14 million. An additional $7 million needs to be raised before the MA will begin operations. The process is expected to begin in early 2001.

Millennium Assessment Board


A.H. Zakri, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia*
Robert Watson,
World Bank*

Representatives of Institutions

Delmar Blasco, Convention on Wetlands
Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO (invited)
Hama Arba Diallo, Convention to Combat Desertification
Gisbert Glaser, UNESCO*
He Changchui, FAO*
Roberto Lenton, UNDP*
Hal Mooney, International Council for Science*
Jorge A. Jiménez Ramón, Convention on Wetlands
Mario Ramos, Global Environment Facility*
Cristian Samper, Convention on Biological Diversity*
Dennis Tirpak, Climate Change Convention
Klaus Töpfer, UNEP*
Meryl Williams, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
Hamdallah Zedan, Convention on Biological Diversity

At Large Members

Phoebe Barnard, Directorate of Environment Affairs, Namibia
Gordana Beltram, Ministry of Environment, Slovenia
Angela Cropper, Trinidad & Tobago (invited)*
Partha Dasgupta, University of Cambridge, U.K.
Mohammed Hassan, Third World Academy of Sciences
Yolanda Kakabadse, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, Ecuador
Yukiko Kawaguchi, Environment Agency, Japan (invited)
Corinne Lepage, Huglo, Lepage & Associés Conseil, France
Jonathan Lash, World Resources Institute*
Hubert Markl, Max Planck Society, Germany
Paul Maro, Southern African Development Community, Lesotho
M.K. Prasad, India
Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden, USA*
Walter Reid, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (ex officio)*
Henry Schacht, Warburg, Pincus & Co., USA
Peter Schei, Directorate for Nature Management, Norway*
David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation, Canada
M.S. Swaminathan, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, India
José Tundisi, International Institute of Ecology, Brazil*
Xu Guanhua, Ministry of Science and Technology, China*

* Members of Exploratory Steering Committee. Other members were: Edward Ayensu, Mark Collins,   Andrew Dearing,  Louise Fresco,  Madhav Gadgil,  Habiba Gitay,   Zuzana Guziova, Calestous Juma, John Krebs,  Jane Lubchenco,  Jeffrey McNeely,  Ndegwa Ndiangui, Janos Pasztor, Prabhu Pingali, Per Pinstrup-Andersen,   José Sarukhán

Further Information

Millennium Assessment Web site: [update:]

General Inquiries

Valerie Thompson, Millennium Assessment Interim Secretariat, c/o World Resources Institute, 10 G Street NE, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20002, USA (tel +1 202 729 7600, fax +1 202 729 7610, e-mail

Science Director

Dr Walter V. Reid, Acting Science Director, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 731 N. 79th St., Seattle, WA 98103, USA (tel +1 206 782 7963, fax +1 206 782 5682, e-mail )


Dr Timothy W. Foresman, Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning, United Nations Environment Programme, P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya (tel +254 2 623231, fax +254 2 623943, e-mail )

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