Ecosystem degradation: can humans undo the damage they have caused?
Ecosystem degradation takes many forms. Loss of biodiversity is widely documented: the extinct species list now scales the 800-mark and the endangered species list stands at over 16,000 according to the IUCN. Another form of damage is ecosystem change, since it significantly reduces the efficiency and number of ecosystem services. The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, carried out between 2001 and 2005, revealed that approximately 60% of ecosystem services (freshwater supply, fish stocks, air and water cleansing, etc.) are currently degraded or overtaxed. The negative effects of this degradation are likely to worsen over the next 50 years. The crucial question, therefore, is whether or not humans will be able to undo the damage they have already caused. Proponents of ecological restoration attempt to answer that question by researching the possibilities to maintain or reintroduce species that are indispensable to ecosystems (called “key species”).
Often the poorest countries must tackle serious ecosystem degradation issues, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and some areas of Latin America and South or South-East Asia.
Ecosystem degradation is measured by the percentage of national territory covered by threatened ecosystems. This percentage obviously depends on the degree of vulnerability of the area, or the estimated degradation risks. Currently, several countries have a very high percentage of ecosystem degradation: 60 countries have a rate of above 92% (thirty in Europe, twelve in Africa, and ten in Asia including India and Bangladesh). At the other end of the spectrum, 30 countries have a rate under 8%, including several northern countries (Canada, Norway, Finland) and desert countries such as Egypt and Libya.
Definition of the indicator
Percentage of a country’s national territory covered by endangered ecosystems.
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