Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Strengthening Capacity to Manage Ecosystems Sustainably for Human Well-Being

History of the Millennium Assessment


The history of the MA can be traced to demands from both scientists and policymakers. By the mid-1990s, many individuals involved in the work of international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) realized that the extensive needs for scientific assessments within the conventions were not being met through the mechanisms then in place. In contrast, effective assessment process like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did exist for such treaties as the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Scientists had also identified a need for an international ecosystem assessment. Although major advances had been made in ecological sciences, resource economics and other fields during the 1980s and 1990s, these new findings appeared to be poorly reflected in policy discussions concerning ecosystems. Recognizing these shortcomings, a panel of 40 leading scientists prepared a draft international assessment - “Protecting our Planet, Securing our Future: Linkages Among Global Environmental Issues and Human Needs”. The study, published in November 1998 by UNEP, NASA, and the World Bank, called for “a more integrative assessment process for selected scientific issues, a process that can highlight the linkages between questions relevant to climate, biodiversity, desertification, and forest issues.”

WRI and the Exploratory Steering Committee

The specific proposal for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment arose during a brainstorming meeting held at World Resources Institute on May 17, 1998 to discuss plans for the biennial World Resources Report, published by WRI, UNEP, World Bank, and UNDP. Building on a proposal by Dr. Walter Reid (WRI Vice President through July 1998), the meeting concluded with a proposal to undertake a set of activities to create a new international assessment process. These activities included: a) conducting a “Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems” (PAGE), b) focusing World Resources2000-2001 on the condition of global ecosystems; and c) establishing a consultative process that could lead to the creation of a full international science assessment. The four partners (WRI, UNEP, the World Bank, and UNDP) approved that proposal and the exploratory phase began later that month. The process unfolded as follows:

June 1998

  • Avina Group, a private philanthropic foundation, agrees to provide a grant to WRI to begin to implement the strategy developed by WRI, UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank.
  • WRI initiates work on the Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems under the direction of Dan Tunstall and Norbert Henninger.

October 1998

  • WRI, UNEP, UNDP, and the World Bank, invite 30 representatives from the scientific community, UN Agencies, the private sector and international conventions to an informal meeting on October 23-24, 1998 to explore the merits of establishing the MA. The group recommends the establishment of a formal steering committee; WRI is asked to serve as the Secretariat for the Exploratory Steering Committee; Walt Reid is asked to coordinate the work of the Steering Committee.

February 1999

  • First meeting of the MA Exploratory Steering Committee. The Committee will explore: a) whether demand exists for the MA; b) what institutional arrangements and authorization will be needed for it to succeed; and, c) whether it could be financed. The meeting is followed by extensive consultations with international conventions, the scientific community and donors as well as workshops in Malaysia (chaired by A.H. Zakri) and Canada (chaired by Madhav Gadgil). Meridian Institute becomes involved to help design the multi-stakeholder process for the MA.
  • The United Nations Foundation, the Packard Foundation, and the Global Environment Facility provide grants in support of the Exploratory Steering Committee, PAGE, and WRR.

October 1999

  • Second meeting of the Exploratory Steering Committee. The Steering Committee passes a resolution calling for the creation of the MA on behalf of their institutions (including four UN Agencies, International Council for Science, CGIAR, World Bank, World Resources Institute, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and World Conservation Union).

Transition Phase and Launch

Following its October 1999 meeting, the Exploratory Steering Committee initiated a “transition phase” designed to establish the formal governance and institutional arrangements for the MA. Between October 1999 and April 2000, the Steering Committee selected the institutions to be formally represented on the Board and 15 “at large” board members (leaving 15 additional Board seats to be filled by the new Board once it was established), finalized the basic organizational and financial arrangements for the MA, and reviewed and approved the formal MA proposal that was subsequently submitted to the GEF, UN Foundation and other donors. WRI agreed to serve as the interim secretariat for as long as was needed in order to ensure the effective launch of the process.

Between October 1999 and July 2000, the Conference of Parties of the CBD and CCD formally endorsed the MA as a mechanism to meet some of their assessment needs and a similar endorsement was provided by the Standing Committee of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar). Other events during this time period included:

April 2000

  • A proposed “International Program on Ecosystem Change (IPEC)—aimed at stimulating research and outreach related to “ecological forecasting”—is merged with the MA. IPEC, an elaboration of an idea proposed by Gretchen Daily and several other leading ecologists in July 1998, was formally accepted as a project of SCOPE (the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment) and this same activity was approved as the “Scenario” Working Group of the MA in July.
  • The Executive Summary of World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life is released, calling for the creation of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The international newsmagazine TIME features the findings of WRR2000 in its international Earth Day Special Issue.
  • United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan features the MA as one of five major initiatives for “Sustaining our Future” in his Millennium Report to the United Nations General Assembly.

May 2000

  • Summit Foundation and Wallace Global Foundation provide grants helping to maintain and enhance the ‘transition phase’ activities (since none of the grants obtained for the full project are available until the full MA budget is secured).
  • The Global Environment Facility approves a $7 million grant to the MA.

July 2000

  • The United Nations Foundation approves a $4 million grant in support of the MA.
  • With financial support from the Government of Norway, the first meeting of the MA Board is held in Trondheim, Norway. Dr. Robert Watson and Dr. A.H. Zakri are elected as Board Co-Chairs, and Dr. Walter Reid is invited to continue to serve as the Acting Director.

September 2000

  • The Government of Norway and Rockefeller Foundation provide support for the further exploration of possible “sub-global assessments” to be included as components of the MA.
  • Release of World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life calling for the establishment of the MA.
  • Over the next six months, five separate PAGE studies—Agroecosystems, Forests, Grasslands, Freshwater, and Coastal Ecosystems—are released.

October 2000

  • The World Bank approves the first year of a $2 million four-year grant to the MA.
  • UNEP agrees to provide $200,000 per year in support of the MA.

December 2000

  • The Packard Foundation approves a $2.4 million grant to WRI in support of the MA, placing the total funding committed to the process at over 75% of the full budget, thereby triggering the release of several other grants and enabling the process to be initiated.
  • Dr. Harold Mooney and Ms. Angela Cropper are invited to serve as the Co-Chairs of the Assessment Panel.

February 2001

  • Initial planning meetings are held for sub-global assessments in Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, and Europe.
  • Assessment Panel members appointed.
  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment begins.

June 2001

  • Formal public launch of the MA. Events take place in New York, Torino Italy, and Tokyo.