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 like 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.
The MA was designed to meet some of the assessment needs of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), and other users including the private sector, civil society, and indigenous peoples. The MA was invited by these conventions to provide updates on progress and to provide the assessment input to their scientific and technical bodies. To strengthen the linkages to the Conventions and to ensure that user needs are being met, the executives of CBD, CCD, Ramsar, and CMS represented these conventions on the MA Board along with the chairs of the scientific subsidiary body of each convention.