Lagos — The value of the world's forests, wetlands, coral reefs and other ecosystems for fighting poverty and delivering sustainable development was spotlighted recently in an international report.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment makes the case that ecosystems and the services they provide are financially significant and that to degrade and damage them is tantamount to economic suicide, said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Assessment, in which UNEP has played a key role, makes it clear that humankind is running down its 'natural capital'.
It argues that the loss of natural services, such as the purification of the air and water, protection from disasters and provision of medicines, as a result of damaged and degraded ecosystems have become a significant barrier in the quest to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Mr. Toepfer, attending the launch of the report in Beijing, China, said: "There are many pressing reasons to value ecosystems and the extraordinary range of services they provide. The habitats, wildlife and landscapes of this planet are sources of beauty, focuses of spirituality and culturally significant for people, communities and countries".
"They are also, and this is especially true for the poor, the basis of livelihoods from forestry and fishing to farming and tourism. For too long their economic value has been ignored. Ecosystem services have been treated as free and their exploitation, limitless," he said.
"The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment gives us, in some ways for the first time, an insight into the economic importance of ecosystem services and some new and additional arguments for respecting and conserving the Earth's life support systems. I am not one of those who believe everything in this world should boil down to dollars and cents. But these estimated values are a good start and are a useful and additional reason to care for and respect natural capital alongside financial and human capital," said Mr. Toepfer.
He also praised the methodology of the Assessment noting that it was a departure from the traditional methods that focus on counting individual species and then monitoring their ups and downs.
Mr. Toepfer said he believed that assessing ecosystems offered a better way of meeting the targets and timetables of the World Summit on Sustainable Development's Plan of Implementation.
This calls for a reversal of the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.