Earth study launched by scientists

The Associated Press
Wednesday June 06, 2001

UNITED NATIONS — On World Environment Day, the United Nations joined forces Tuesday with 1,500 leading scientists and a host of public and private organizations to launch the first major study of the health of planet Earth. 

Secretary General Kofi Annan said the four-year, $21 million study “is designed to bring the world’s best science to bear on the present choices we face in managing the global environment.” 

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment will examine the state of the world’s grasslands, forests, farmlands, oceans and fresh waterways and fill important gaps in the knowledge needed to preserve “the health of our planet,” he told a news conference launching the initiative. 

In a report last year to the U.N. Millennium Summit, Annan noted there had never been a comprehensive global assessment of the world’s major ecosystems. 

“The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is a response to this need,” he said. 

Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, which has provided $4 million to help fund the assessment, said the result will be “the first global report card on our environment” – and he predicted it would not be a good one. 

He noted the economic implications. 

“When the environment is forced to file for bankruptcy ... because its resource base has been polluted, degraded, dissipated, irretrievably compromised, then the economy goes down to bankruptcy with it – and so does everything else,” Wirth said. 

Pilot studies conducted by the World Resources Institute indicate that in many regions of the world, ecosystems are less able to meet human demand for food and clean water. Coral reefs are dying, forests are disappearing and fish stocks are being depleted. 

“From out-of-control forest fires in Southeast Asia to massive floods in China, Central America and Mozambique, natural events have been exacerbated by human degradation of ecosystems – and in every case it is the poor who have suffered the most,” said Mohamed El-Ashry, head of the Global Environment Facility. 

The assessment was designed by the U.N. Environment Program, the U.N. Development Program, the World Bank, the World Resources Institute, the Global Environment Facility – which is providing $7 million in funding – and other partners. 

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