The political agenda imposed on ecologists and environmental managers has changed since the early 1990s. Since the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 the focus has been on sus-tainability, which inevitably has made ecosystem functioning a core issue. Sustainability Development is, according to the Rio Declaration, defined as follows: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." And, the contrasting parties are invited to, "act in a way that is economically profitable, socially acceptable, and environmentally compatible." Already the Rio Declaration emphasized the importance of ecosystems in Principle 7: States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect, and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystems.
In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, states have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.
The Convention of Biodiversity adopted, in 2000, 12 principles—called the Ecosystem Approach—that placed the ecosystem concept even more centrally into environmental management considerations. It is particularly clear from the last 10 of the 12 principles:
(1) The objectives of management of land, water, and living resources are a matter of societal choice.
(2) Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level.
(3) Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems.
(4) Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context. Any such ecosystem-management program should:
a. Reduce those market distortions that adversely affect biological diversity.
b. Align incentives to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.
c. Internalize costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to the extent feasible.
(5) Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach.
(6) Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their functioning.
(7) The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.
(8) Recognizing the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that characterize ecosystem processes. objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term.
(9) Management must recognize that change is inevitable.
(10) The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance between. and integration of. conservation and use of biological diversity.
(11) The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information. including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations, and practices.
(12) The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines.
Also in the book Ecosystems and Human Well-being, a Report of the Conceptual Framework Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment from 2003, ecosystems are the core topic. In Chapter 2 of the book. it is emphasized that: an assessment of the condition of ecosystems, the provision of services, and their relation to human well-being requires an integrated approach. This enables a decision process to determine which service or set of services is valued most highly and how to develop approaches to maintain services by managing the system sustainably. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such a food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual. recreational. and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling. which maintain the conditions for life on Earth.
Today. environmental managers have realized that maintenance of ecosystem structure and functioning (see Principle 5 above) by an integrated approach is a prerequisite for a successful environmental management strategy. which is able to optimize the ecosystem services for the benefit of mankind and nature. Another question is whether we have sufficient knowledge in ecology and systems ecology today to give the needed information about ecosystem structure. function. and response to disturbance to scientifically pursue the presented environmental management strategy and ecosystem sustainability. In any way. the political demands provide a daunting challenge for ecosystem ecology.
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