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Charting a Path to Restore Nature's Capital

A new book, compiling the work of 18 global experts, lays out policy, institutional, and governance recommendations to respond to global ecosystem degradation.

Nature provides people with many services that underlie a healthy, secure, and fulfilling existence. Among the many benefits people receive from nature, or ecosystem services, are fresh water, food, protection from floods, and spiritual enrichment. In fact, it is hard to think of a part of human life that doesn’t in some way depend upon nature.

Unfortunately, the majority of the Earth’s ecosystems are not healthy. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first-ever global look at ecosystem condition, found over 60% of ecosystem services to be in worse condition than they were 50 years ago. This large scale destruction is a result of humans having frequently treated many natural assets as if they have no value.

This scale of degradation and its implications for ecosystems’ capacity to support human well-being demands an urgent response from government, civil society, and the private sector at all levels. Ecosystems must be governed in ways that recognize their value to society.

In order to insulate the scientific findings from politics, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment by design stopped short of making specific policy recommendations. To figure out how to put society on a path toward restoring healthy ecosystem services, WRI invited 18 experts from diverse backgrounds to propose ideas for the key policy implications of the Assessment’s findings. Their only instructions were that all options should be on the table.

The resulting papers have now been published in the compilation Policies for Sustainable Governance of Global Ecosystem Services. This book presents the earliest concerted thinking about how to address both the stark realities and the enormous potential uncovered by the Assessment.

Based on this and other work, WRI has defined an action agenda for governments, business, and civil society designed to sustain ecosystem services. The action agenda focuses on governance---who makes decisions, how decisions are made, and with what information. It calls for increasing access to information on ecosystem services and for tipping the balance in favor of local rights to resources and local voices in decision making. It also calls for managing decisions across levels---local, regional, national, international---and increasing the use of accountability mechanisms and economic and financial incentives.

Nature’s benefits---both economic and social---could sustain many generations. But in order for that to happen, one thing is abundantly clear: "business as usual" is no longer an option. Humanity needs a new approach to managing the assets upon which all life depends. Business as usual will not move beyond protecting nature from development to investing in nature for development.

Contributors to the book:

  • Mark Bateman, IW Financial, USA;
  • Albert Cho, McKinsey & Co.;
  • Hernan Dario Correa, Colombia;
  • Robert Goodland, World Bank Group, retired;
  • Frances Irwin, WRI;
  • Anthony Janetos, Joint Global Change Research Institute, USA:
  • David Jhirad, Rockefeller Foundation, USA;
  • Karin Krchnak, The Nature Conservancy;
  • Antonio La Vina, Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University, The Philippines;
  • Lailai Li, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden;
  • Nicolas Lucas, Secretaría de Desarrollo Sustentable y Ambiente, Argentina;
  • Mohan Munasinghe, Munasinghe Institute for Development, Sri Lanka;
  • Richard Norgaard, University of California, Berkeley;
  • Sudhir Chella Rajan, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras;
  • Janet Ranganathan, WRI;
  • Iokiñe Rodríguez, Venezuela;
  • Guido Schmidt-Traub, U.N. Millennium Project; and
  • Frances Seymour, Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia.

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