Boom or Bust? The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment on it’s 10th birthday.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publishing of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, arguably one of the most influential and hard-hitting environmental reports. This decade landmark provides a chance for reflection on the progress of the critical conservation strategies the paper outlined, just how large is the contribution it has made to conservation

A “sixth mass extinction.” “Irreversible degradation to ecosystem services.” A “threat to existence.” Just a handful of the hard-hitting and slightly breath-taking headlines to emerge as a result of the MEA. Despite years of heated debate surrounding the causes and origins of the loss of biodiversity, the extent to which the earth has changed is undeniable. According to the publications, the earth had changed more in the last 50 years than at any other time. The momentum generated as a result has arguably slowed pace in recent years. The question arises therefore as to whether or not sustainable change has been achieved as a result, or whether efforts fizzled out before any long lasting repair could be made.

The MEA set out to alter the way political, social and economic decisions regarding global ecosystem management were dealt with. To some extent, these goals appear at least on the surface, to have been partially achieved. Environmental health is increasing in strength as a bargaining power in many a political parties policies, creating something of a buzz word. STEM recruitment is expanding, and ecotourism is increasingly popular. These “wins” however, are distinctly tarred by the mass of pointers that paint a far bleaker scene. The IUCN reports no notable decline in extinctions and decreasing populations. Research published today differs very little to that of 10-15 years ago in their fundamental concerns and areas for improvement. Interconnectivity between disciplines, improving public awareness, even just the need for urgent preservation seem as commonly stated as ever. Perhaps even more concerning for those involved in the MEA is the rapid decline is research that connects itself to the publication. A quick search of conservation-based literature highlights the extent to which the MEA appears to be slipping from view point.

Another worry is the “gimmick” factor that some say exists. The vast majority of eco-tourism thrives on providing a different experience, quirky and unique, rather than its core, fundamental themes. The way in which many states refer to their environmental policies, is seen by some as a reluctant tag on, a bonus feature. Renewable energy sources are still a rarity, more an apparent lifestyle choice than serious alternative. While recruitment of STEM researchers is indeed soring, the relevance of a large deal of this work is debated-do the millions of pounds annually spent on extremely specific research areas really contribute to targeted, global conservation effort needed?


The MEA stated itself, that a replicate or follow up, would only occur depending upon the success of its reception and its use. The attention attracted to the various findings were worthy indeed, if only to highlight the dangers we face. However, one must reflect as to whether or not this “sit up and listen” reflex was worth the $24 million dollars spent on the project, considering the seemingly small proportion of this attitude that has been used to fuel active change.


The 10th anniversary of the project, may upon reflection have failed to yield all that was hoped for, however it provides an opportunity for a redirection, reflection and reconsideration-crucial to the long term achievement of a global solution.

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Katie Appleby


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