On World Environment Day, UN launches global effort to assess ecosystems

On World Environment Day, UN launches global effort to assess ecosystems

Marking World Environment Day, observed annually on 5 June to deepen public awareness of the need to preserve the planet's resources, the United Nations today launched the first comprehensive global effort to evaluate the world's major ecosystems.

Speaking at the launch of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the project was designed to bring the world's best science to bear on the pressing choices the international community faced in managing the global environment. The Assessment - also launched today in Beijing, Havana, London, Tokyo and Turin - is a four-year $21 million effort that involves 1,500 scientists and brings together governments, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions and the private sector.

"It will fill important knowledge gaps, enabling policy-makers to make better, more informed decisions," Mr. Annan said. "Most of all, the Assessment promises to help us improve the lives and livelihoods of the poor, and make considerable gains in our efforts to find and equitable and sustainable balance between environment and development."

This year, the theme of World Environment Day is "Connect with the World Wide Web of Life," which, observance organizers say, is a reminder that the Earth - with its complex, interlocking systems - is the foundation of our lives. "As our world views are continually challenged by new information, and as we become more aware of the consequences of our collective actions, it becomes harder for us to ignore the quality of our surrounding environment," said Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

For his part, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri highlighted the fact that this year's Day coincided with the Assembly's special session to review the Habitat Agenda adopted five years ago at the second UN Human Settlements conference in Istanbul. "This coincidence underscores the interdependence of our human habitat with the environment and its living and non-living resources."

The head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, said in a message that a dynamic use of information technologies would prove critical in meeting the challenges of better engaging public dialogue on "win-win" opportunities in natural resource management, involving local communities in managing ecosystems, and filling critical information gaps on how best to do so.

World Environment Day aims to involve the public in a wide range of activities, such as street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, as well as recycling and clean-up campaigns. As part of today's observance, UNEP presented its prestigious Global 500 Awards in Turin, Italy, to 18 individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to environmental protection. The agency also launched a new web-portal "FOOD" to help developing countries phase out a toxic and ozone depleting pesticide - methyl bromide.