Ecosystems are the productive engines of the planet, providing us with everything from the water we drink to the food we eat and the fiber we use for clothing, paper, and lumber. Yet nearly every measure used to assess the health of ecosystems indicates that we are drawing on them more than ever, while degrading them at an accelerating rate.
How then can we best manage our vital ecosystems-and reduce our own impacts-so that they remain healthy and productive in the face of increasing human demands? Governments and businesses will first have to rethink some basic assumptions about how we measure and plan economic growth, taking into account the natural limits that sustain our ecosystems. This volume brings together the critical information about the condition and long-term prospects of our ecosystems that will be needed to make responsible decisions about their future.
Focusing on five critical systems (croplands, forests, coastal zones, freshwater systems, and grasslands) the book analyzes the value of goods and services currently provided by our ecosystems and their capacity to continue production. It goes on to recommend sweeping changes for managing these biological underpinnings of the global economy and human well-being, including: respecting the natural boundaries of ecosystems and managing them as one complete system, rather that as separate entities; regularly assessing the condition of our ecosystems and studying the processes that underlie their capacity to sustain life; assembling information that allows a careful weighing of tradeoffs between ecosystem goods and services and environmental, political, social, and economic goals; and including the public-particularly local communities-in the management of ecosystems.
A joint publication of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, World Bank, and World Resources Institute