Millennium Ecosystem Assessment -- Synthesis report for wetlands and water


MA Synthesis report on Wetlands and Water

In the next few days, the Secretariat will be mailing out printed copies of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment synthesis report on wetlands - Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Wetlands and Water: Synthesis - to our national focal points in the Administrative Authorities and the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP). Unfortunately, we don't have enough hard copies to make them available to the public, but the 68-page document is available in PDF format from the MA Web site, presently in English and Arabic and eventually in Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish as well.


The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was an international work programme that "focused on ecosystem services (the benefits people obtain from ecosystems), how changes in ecosystem services have affected human well-being, how ecosystem changes may affect people in future decades, and response options that might be adopted at local, national, or global scales to improve ecosystem management and thereby contribute to human well-being and poverty alleviation". It was launched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in June 2001 and completed in March 2005 and is intended to help to meet assessment needs of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species, as well as needs of other users in the private sector and civil society.

According to its Web site, "the MA synthesizes information from the scientific literature, datasets, and scientific models, and includes knowledge held by the private sector, practitioners, local communities and indigenous peoples. All of the MA findings undergo rigorous peer review. More than 1,300 authors from 95 countries have been involved in four expert working groups preparing the global assessment, and hundreds more [have undertaken] more than 20 sub-global assessments".

The four main volumes of the MA general report - entitled Current State and Trends, Scenarios, Policy Responses, and Multiscale Assessments - as well as Our Human Planet (Summary for Decision Makers), are available for PDF download from the MA and for purchase in printed form from Island Press.

The Synthesis reports

In addition to the enormous general report, there are five synthesis reports that integrate the general findings that are significant to five main subject areas. All with the general title "Ecosystems and Human Well-being", the syntheses treat of Biodiversity (prepared for the CBD); Desertification; Wetlands and Water (prepared for the Ramsar Convention); Opportunities and Challenges for Business and Industry; and Health (with the WHO).

The Wetlands and Water synthesis report has been prepared by an MA Synthesis Team of more than twenty authors co-led by Max Finlayson, Rebecca D'Cruz, and Nick Davidson. It includes a Key Messages section and a Summary for Decision-Makers as well as chapters on the distribution of wetlands and their species; wetland services; drivers of loss and change to wetland ecosystems; human well-being; scenarios for the future of wetlands; and responses for the wise use of wetlands.

Key messages from the STRP

In parallel to the Key Messages prefaced to the Wetlands Synthesis, the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP), at its February 2005 meeting, endorsed its own set of 14 key messages for the reader to take away from the document, and that was presented to Ramsar COP9 in November 2005.

Wetlands and water, ecosystems and human well-being

Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP):
Key Messages from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Ramsar Convention's Scientific & Technical Review Panel (STRP) has prepared this list of Key Messages as a statement to Contracting Parties at COP9 on its view concerning the key findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) for the Ramsar Convention and its future implementation.

The STRP urges all Contracting Parties to disseminate these important messages to their colleagues in other sectors (e.g., land use, water use) in order to enhance understanding and cross-sectoral cooperation towards wise use of wetlands.

The STRP commends to Contracting Parties the work of the MA, and in particular its report to the Ramsar Convention (Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Wetlands and Water. Synthesis) being launched at this Conference.

The STRP's 14 Key Messages for the Ramsar Convention and the future of wetlands are:

1. A cross-sectoral focus is urgently needed from policy- and decision-makers that emphasizes securing wetland ecosystems and their services in the context of achieving sustainable development and improving human well-being.

2. Management of wetlands and water resources is most successfully addressed through integrated management at the river (or lake or aquifer) basin scale that is linked to coastal zone management for coastal and near-shore wetlands and that takes into account water allocations for the ecosystems.

3. Wetlands deliver a wide range of critical and important services (e.g. fish and fiber, water supply, water purification, coastal protection, recreational opportunities, and increasingly, tourism) vital for human well-being. Maintaining the natural functioning of wetlands will enable them to continue to deliver these services.

4. The principal supply of renewable fresh water for humans comes from an array of wetland types, including lakes, rivers, swamps and groundwater aquifers. Up to 3 billion people are dependent on groundwater as a source of drinking water, but such abstractions increasingly exceed their recharge from surface wetlands.

5. The services delivered by wetlands have been arguably valued at US$14 trillion annually. Economic valuation now provides a powerful tool for placing wetlands on the agenda of conservation and development decision-makers.

6. Wetlands encompass a significant proportion of the area of the planet; the global estimate is 1280 million hectares (equivalent to approximately 9% of land surface) and is recognized as an under-estimate.

7. The degradation and loss of wetlands is more rapid than that for other ecosystems. Similarly, the status of both freshwater and, to a lesser extent, coastal species is deteriorating faster than that of species in other ecosystems. Wetland-dependent biodiversity in many parts of the world is in continuing and accelerating decline.

8. Wetland loss and degradation has primarily been driven by land conversion and infrastructure development, water abstraction, eutrophication and pollution and over-exploitation. Losses tend to be more rapid where populations are increasing most and where demands for increased economic development are greatest. There are a number of broad, interrelated economic reasons, including perverse subsidies, why wetlands continue to be lost and degraded.

9. Global climate change is expected to further exacerbate the loss and degradation of wetland biodiversity including species that cannot relocate and migratory species that rely on a number of wetlands at different stages of their life cycle.

10. The continuing loss and degradation of wetlands are leading to reduction in the delivery of wetland ecosystem services, yet at the same time demand for these same services is projected to increase.

11. Current use of two wetland ecosystem services - freshwater and capture fisheries dependent on natural reproduction - in some regions is now in excess of levels that can be sustained even at current demands, much less future ones.

12. The projected continued loss and degradation of wetlands will result in further reduction in human well-being, especially for poorer people in less developed countries where technological solutions are not as readily available.

13. Progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals depends on maintaining or enhancing wetland ecosystem services.

14. The priority when making choices about wetland management decisions is to ensure that the ecosystem services of the wetland are maintained (and, where appropriate, restored). This can be achieved by application of the wise use principle and guidelines of the Ramsar Convention.

Launched at Ramsar COP9

The Wetlands and Water synthesis report was launched at Ramsar COP9 in November 2005. Here is the MA's press release on the event.

"Ecosystems & Human Well-being: Wetlands & Water Synthesis" launched at Ramsar COP9

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 | Kampala, UG

Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Peter Bridgewater, launched the fifth synthesis report by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), "Ecosystems & Human Well-being: Wetlands & Water Synthesis" during the opening ceremony of COP9. The Wetlands and Water synthesis was designed for the Ramsar Convention to meet the need for information about the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and sought to strengthen the link between scientific knowledge and decision-making for the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Highlighting the findings from the report, Bridgewater, who was also a member of the MA Board, noted that, "The degradation and loss of wetlands is more rapid than that of other ecosystems. Similarly, the status of both freshwater and coastal wetland species is deteriorating faster than those of other ecosystems."

He also stressed the need to balance the desire to add more sites to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance with ensuring their effective management and representativeness. He called for: synergies among biodiversity-related Conventions; better environmental governance frameworks; and capacity building.

In a special presentation on the Wetlands and Water synthesis during a COP9 Plenary session, Synthesis Team Co-Chair, Rebecca D'Cruz, stressed that ecosystem services are vital to human well-being, lamenting that many of these services are overused, mismanaged or degraded, and highlighted policy choices available to reduce wetland degradation while maintaining benefits.

Commenting on the accelerated wetland degradation, she highlighted a reduction of human well-being, especially in developing countries, coupled with an increased demand for wetland services. She said policy decisions must address trade-offs between current and future use, and emphasized cross sectoral and ecosystem approaches. Finally, she noted that the report would help set the future agenda for Ramsar, and could be used to raise awareness on wetlands.

The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, I.R. Iran, 1971) has recognized from the start that the MA can and should provide the Contracting Parties to the Convention, and all involved in the conservation and wise use of wetlands, with new understanding and insights into how best they can meet the objectives of the Convention. The Convention's Standing Committee, Secretariat, and Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) have supported and contributed to the work of the MA throughout.

During its work, the MA made a significant contribution to the work of the Convention's STRP. Through this "cross-fertilization" of ideas, the MA's conceptual framework provides a structure for the delivery of the Convention's central concept of "wise use" of all wetlands. Furthermore, the STRP has recognized that the ecosystem terminologies adopted by the MA provide a valuable approach to its work of updating and harmonizing the terms and definitions used by the Convention, notably those concerning ecological character and wise use. Finally, the existing Ramsar "Toolkit" of Wise Use Handbooks is enhanced and supported by the MA's advice on response options.

Among the key messages from the Wetlands synthesis report include:

  • More than 50% of specific types of wetlands (including lakes, rivers, marshes, and coastal regions to a depth of 6 meters at low) in parts of North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand were destroyed during the twentieth century, and many others in many parts of the world degraded.
  • Wetlands deliver a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being, such as fish and fiber, water supply, water purification, climate regulation, flood regulation, coastal protection, recreational opportunities, and, increasingly, tourism.
  • When both the marketed and nonmarketed economic benefits of wetlands are included, the total economic value of unconverted wetlands is often greater than that of converted wetlands.
  • The projected continued loss and degradation of wetlands will reduce the capacity of wetlands to mitigate impacts and result in further reduction in human well-being (including an increase in the prevalence of disease), especially for poorer people in lower-income countries, where technological solutions are not as readily available. At the same time, demand for many of these services (such as denitrification and flood and storm protection) will increase.
  • Cross-sectoral and ecosystem-based approaches to wetland management-such as river (or lake or aquifer) basin-scale management, and integrated coastal zone management-that consider the trade-offs between different wetland ecosystem services are more likely to ensure sustainable development than many existing sectoral approaches and are critical in designing actions in support of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Major policy decisions in the next decades will have to address trade-offs among current uses of wetland resources and between current and future uses. Particularly important trade-offs involve those between agricultural production and water quality, land use and biodiversity, water use and aquatic biodiversity, and current water use for irrigation and future agricultural production.

Development of the MA Synthesis report on Wetlands and Water

Co-Leads Max Finlayson and Rebecca D'Cruz, September 2004

MA"Ramsar Synthesis Report" preparatory meeting, Bali, Indonesia, 8-10 March 2004

MA"Ramsar Synthesis Report" meeting, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 25-29 September 2004

MA "Ramsar Synthesis Report" draft available for comment, November 2004

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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