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

National and Regional Activities

In August last year, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) began an effort to reach out and engage decision makers in a number of countries and regions around the world. Various dialogues and interactions with MA users have ensued, briefly described below.

The challenge of sustainably managing ecosystems for human well-being needs to be met through institutions at multiple scales. There is no single critical scale for this. Local, national, regional and international institutions have a unique role to play in understanding and managing ecosystems for people. This poses to the MA the challenge of effectively sharing its products and benefits, and providing opportunities to participate in the assessment, at multiple levels.

Several mechanisms have been developed to meet this challenge. One of the most important is the process of selection of sub-global assessments (regional, national and local) through which some 20 such initiatives have been identified and supported. In addition: open calls were issued to submit nominations of authors for MA working groups; four major international conventions (Biological Diversity, Desertification, Wetlands and Migratory Species) have established formal procedures to incorporate the MA into their decision making processes; some 25 national scientific organizations and academies of sciences are now formally affiliated with the MA; an electronic system is being developed to share information and data with the public; and a number of dialogues to engage with regional and national actors, institutions and processes have been started. The latter are described in this document.

By reaching out directly to stakeholders in countries and regions the MA seeks to share its work and expertise at different scales, promote multisectoral dialogue, bring the assessment closer to regional and national priorities and concerns, and support the work of the international conventions it serves. With the support of various partners that act as facilitators, the MA is engaging in an ongoing interaction with government officials, civil society and indigenous organizations, universities, business associations and others in a number of countries. These contacts began with a series of 25 videoconferences and discussions in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru), Africa (Burkina Faso, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Tanzania), Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and South and East Asia (India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines).

The conferences were the starting point for a number of processes that are bringing the MA closer to the concerns and public agendas in almost all of these countries and regions. These initial contacts were followed by further discussions with Ministries, NGOs, universities and other actors in each country. The results are significant.

On the one hand, the MA and its partners have prepared the ground for more in-depth and formal dialogue between the assessment and decision makers. This year we will see new developments in this dialogue in various national and regional workshops and seminars that are being organized around the world. On the other hand, the relevance of the MA to the national and regional scene, and hence the utility of MA products over the next years, is becoming stronger. Finally, in many cases, these dialogues have been synergistic with MA sub-global assessment activities.

Some examples will illustrate these points.

West Africa is one region where the connection between ecosystem change and human condition is especially clear and palpable. It is also a region that has developed institutions to address some of the key aspects of this relation. The famines of the 1970s spurned the creation of an intergovernmental organization, CILSS, to look after food security in the region and natural resources management more generally. One critical issue in this context, defined by the region, is land tenure. The MA will contribute to ongoing regional policy making processes around this regional concern. In addition, over the last few years West African institutions, lead by the regional office of IUCN, have been developing a regional integrated assessment of ecosystems and human well-being. The MA is exploring ways of contributing to this process as well.

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based in Santiago de Chile, is primarily concerned with supporting socioeconomic development in the region. ECLAC is starting to see in the MA an important contribution to this mission. A regional seminar for participants active in various development fields will be organized to explore how the MA conceptual framework and findings can be used to strengthen decision-making for development in Latin America.

The national environmental authority in Argentina is considering declaring the MA of ‘national interest’ and engaging in an effort to disseminate the process and its products throughout the country; we hope this will provide critical support to an emerging integrated assessment of the Pampas. The Chilean government has now fully incorporated the MA sub-global assessment in that country (in Salar de Atacama) into its program of drylands-related initiatives nationwide and has brought this experience to the attention of CCD. Partners in Ecuador have asked leading economic and social analysts to assess the MA’s conceptual framework’s relevance to this country and are considering bringing the MA to the attention of the Andean region. In Bolivia stakeholders are exploring the possibility of bringing the MA as a development planning instrument to Potosi, one of the poorest regions in this country, and interest has been expressed in an integrated assessment of El Beni, in eastern Bolivia. In Nicaragua discussions with stakeholders revealed the high concerns raised by regional integration processes, including trade, infrastructure development and environmental policy. The region is establishing a biological corridor (the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor) and the MA is exploring ways to contribute to this initiative, especially with regards to the human development dimension. In Brazil the MA may become part of the agenda of the Commission on Sustainable Development Policies, and in Peru discussions are ongoing to use the MA as an input to critical national issues such as major infrastructure development and the process of decentralization.

The MA is taking place at a time when the Arab world is especially hit by recession. Stakeholders in this region see that the MA’s contribution to sustainable development would be especially relevant if it recognises this context. Together with Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Suez Canal University (which is conducting an assessment of the Sinai Peninsula), with the possible support of the Environmental Agency in Egypt, a regional seminar featuring the MA conceptual framework will bring together stakeholders from the region in support of efforts to develop integrated approaches to ecosystem assessment and management.

Indonesia is preparing a national summit on sustainable development (ISSD) to follow up on the results of WSSD and make them a national commitment. The MA will be discussed in a workshop prior to this summit and will become an input to ISSD. Interactions with stakeholders there also lead to the consolidation of the sub-global assessment in the Arafura and Timor seas.

The republics of Central Asia are pursuing sustainable development strategies through the Central Asian partnership initiative (sub-regional Agenda 21). These countries have agreed that sub-regional cooperation in Central Asia is an essential component of any effort to address problems of environmental degradation and associated issues. There is recognition among experts in the region of the value from the MA integrated assessment framework. The MA Conceptual Framework and its application to achievement of the Central Asian sustainable development goals will be the topic of a regional workshop to be held in August 2003, and of a future process of Central Asian partnership initiative, lead by the REC for Central Asia.

As can be noted, in most cases the MA could make a broader contribution to sustainable development in each country and region. But by working with local institutions on locally defined priorities, the MA can demonstrate its effective relevance and therefore build a sounder basis for further explorations.

What next?

In September, the MA will release its first product: Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment. We want to share this work broadly. And we also want to encourage a critical discussion, by and for stakeholders in each country or region. As mentioned above, we have identified opportunities for this in virtually all these places – opportunities to share the MA in the context of national or regional debates, to ensure its practical relevance. Between September and November, a number of workshops and seminars will take place, which will lead to continuing multi-stakeholder discussions of MA findings next year. Next year, the review process of the full MA reports will take place, which will provide a new opportunity to share the MA and deepen policy dialogue. The MA is also starting to build a network of users to facilitate the exchange of information, capacity building and the dissemination of benefits more generally. As this network proves its usefulness, the basis for expanded regional and national engagement will be set.

  • “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Everyone has the right to (…) seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 27 and 19).
  • “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities (…) and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. (…)” (The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Principle 10).

The MA takes to heart these two principles. These are high standards that can only be met through the active participation of users in the process. The MA will be as open and relevant as stakeholders make it.