Global Ecosystems Study Opens Secretariat in Malaysia

Scientists overseeing the most extensive study of the world’s ecosystems and their contributions to economic development today announced the opening of an office based at ICLARM – The World Fish Center in Penang, Malaysia.

The study, called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), is a 4-year, $21 million effort conducted around the world. The executive director, zoologist Dr. Walter V. Reid, will coordinate the work of at least 1,500 scientists and research institutions from Penang.

“We are pleased to host the directorate of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,” said Dr. Meryl J. Williams, director-general of ICLARM – The World Fish Center, in Penang. “Assessing the health of the planet’s intricately woven ecosystems requires unprecedented global cooperation and new partnerships between scientists, governments, and the private sector.”

The study was designed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and other partners. Major funding is provided by the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the World Bank.

“The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is the first global check-up of the health of our planet, and the results will fill important gaps in the knowledge that we need to preserve it,” said Dr. Klaus Töpfer, UNEP executive director. “It involves the largest number of natural and social scientists ever assembled to look at the consequences of changes to the world’s ecosystems.”

The study was launched to provide decision-makers with authoritative scientific knowledge concerning the impact of changes to the world’s ecosystems on human livelihoods and the environment. It will provide governments, the private sector, and local organizations with better information about steps that can be taken to restore the productivity of the world’s ecosystems.

Prior to the MA’s launch in June 2001, WRI and its partners undertook a study – the Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems (PAGE) – to demonstrate the feasibility of the MA. The results were published in a five-volume series last year ( That study indicated that in many regions of the world, the capacity of ecosystems to meet human needs for food and clean water is being diminished. Also, threats to biodiversity and human health are growing, and vulnerability to environmental disasters such as floods and landslides is increasing.

“We all depend on ecosystem services to sustain ourselves, but the fabric of our ecosystems is fraying and we need to repair it,” said Prof. A. H. Zakri, co-chair of the MA board. “Developing countries in particular rely heavily on healthy ecosystems to meet needs for food, water, and employment and to provide a strong base for economic development.”

The MA will include global, sub-global, and national assessments. Assessments have been approved or are being planned for Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, Western China, Norway, India and Sweden. The current MA meeting in Kuala Lumpur will decide on additional assessments.

The MA has been recognized by governments as a mechanism to meet part of the assessment needs of three international environmental treaties – the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

The MA’s work is overseen by a 45-member board, chaired by Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientist of the World Bank and Dr. A. H. Zakri, former deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and now director of the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies. The Assessment Panel, which will oversee the technical work of the MA, comprises 13 of the world’s leading social and natural scientists. It is co-chaired by Angela Cropper of the Cropper Foundation, and Dr. Harold Mooney of Stanford University.

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment