Survey of Initial Impacts of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment‘s general synthesis report was released about a year ago. On March 21 2006, the MA released an assessment of the initial impact of the MA. The report is written by Walt Reid, the director of the MA, based upon a survey of (report pdf). The survey found that some organizations and countries have been significantly influenced by the MA while others have not been minimally if at all. In the report’s executive summary Walt Reid assess the impact of the MA on its multiple target audiences:

UN Conventions: The MA has had a significant impact on the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. A substantial amount of MA information and material has been utilized in decisions and recommendations taken by both of these conventions. There has been less impact on the Convention to Combat Desertification.

Regional, National, and Sub-national governments: Among governments, the impact of the MA appears to be greatest in regions and countries where MA sub-global assessments were conducted, including the Caribbean, South Africa, China, Sweden, and Norway, although significant impacts are also noted in regions and countries that did not undertake sub-global assessments such as the European Union, U.K. and France. At a national level, there is little evidence of impact among several other economically and politically influential countries, including the U.S., India, Japan, and Brazil.

Business: The MA findings were well-received by business journalists but the impact to date in the business sector has been relatively limited. The most significant impact of the MA within business and industry is the incorporation of the concept of ecosystem services in the environmental policy issued by Goldman Sachs in November 2005. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is also working with companies on MA follow-up activities.

Donors: The MA has had a notable impact on multi-lateral (particularly the Global Environmental Facility) and bilateral (particularly Scandanavian countries) donors and to a lesser extent on foundations.

NGOs: The MA has had a notable impact on international conservation-oriented NGOs but much less impact on national NGOs. To date, there is no evidence of any impact on NGOs focused on development, poverty reduction, or health issues.
International Agencies. All of the UN agencies involved in the MA process (UNEP, UNDP, FAO, WHO, and UNESCO) have incorporated the MA findings and process into their activities. There appears to have been no impact at all within the Bretton Woods Institutions.

Capacity Building: The MA sub-global assessments and the MA fellows program were the primary mechanisms established by the MA to build assessment capacity and these were generally successful. A handful of additional training and capacity building activities have been established by partners and by experts involved in the MA.

Education: MA materials are being used extensively in University courses and curricula. There is less evidence of use at other levels of education.

Scientific Research: The MA is having a notable impact on research directions and priorities.

It would be unrealistic to attempt a complete evaluation of the impact of the MA for at least another year since some reports are only now being released and several processes (such as convention negotiations) that the MA sought to inform will be taking important decisions related to the MA over the next year. Even so, based on perceptions of its preliminary impact, the MA is being viewed by some to have been a success.

In December 2005, for example, the MA was awarded the Zayed International Prize for the Environment. The Jury indicated that “the success of the MA set a standard for monitoring and evaluating environmental change and its impact on sustainability of life on our fragile planet.” Similarly, The World Economic Forum, in its 2006 Global Governance Initiative Annual Report, recognized the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as one of the ‘heroes’ in 2005 in the category of the environment.

On the other hand, others involved in the MA process have stated that “the MA has had zero impact on policy”.

Based on the preliminary impact described here, it appears that both perspectives may be correct depending on the region and sector being considered. Differences in perspectives regarding the overall impact exist in part because of striking regional and national differences in the attention that governments and the media have given to the MA and because of differences in the use of the findings among different institutions and sectors.

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