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UNESCO Scientific
A World of Science


A World of Science
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S. Schneegans
, Editor


p 2 - When learning science becomes child’s play

p 8 - Experts warn ecosystem changes threaten development
p 9 - Tsunami early warning system moves into new phase
p 10 - A project office for IODE
p 11 - Brunei joins UNESCO
p 11 - Chinese Science Academy to watch over World Heritage
p 12 - Grid power tackles brain drain in Balkans

p 13 - Howard Moore on UNESCO’s contribution to making the European Research Area truly pan-European

p 16 - Assessing how nature supports people in Southern Africa
p 20 - Buried treasure in the Americas

p 20 - Diary
p 20 - New releases
p 20 - Governing bodies

Roadblocks can be lifted

If we miss the boat for achieving environmental sustainability by 2015, we can wave good-bye not only to this Millennium Goal but also to many others, warns a major study published on 30 March. ‘Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of extreme poverty and hunger eradication, improved health and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded’, says the study, which describes the ongoing degradation of ecosystem services serves as a ‘roadblock’ to achieving the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by world leaders at the United Nations in 2000. According to the study, 60% of the ecosystem services supporting life on Earth are being degraded or used unsustainably.

The fruit of a four-year global assessment by a team of UN agencies – including UNESCO – international scientific bodies and development agencies, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report claims there is now enough evidence for experts to warn that the ongoing degradation of 15 of the 24 ecosystem services examined – including freshwater, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – increases the likelihood of potentially abrupt changes that will seriously affect human well-being. This includes the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of ‘dead zones’ along the coasts, the collapse of fisheries and shifts in regional climate.

The study confirms what many have long suspected: that it is the world’s poorest who bear the brunt of ecosystem changes. The regions facing significant problems of eco-system degradation – sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, some regions of Latin America and parts of south and Southeast Asia – are also those finding it hardest to reach the Millennium Goals. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of poor is forecast to rise from 315 million in 1999 to 404 million by 2015. Southern Africa is unlikely to be spared, as we shall see from one of the sub-regional reports for the Millennium Assessment, reproduced in this issue.

As this issue goes to press, the G8 countries have just agreed to write off the debt of 18 of the world’s poorest countries: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. A further nine may soon join them. Freed from the stranglehold of debt, this first group of countries will now dispose of $1.5 billion in annual savings from debt repayments to invest in such areas as education, health and the environment. It could make all the difference to their chances of meeting the Millennium Goals.


W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences





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