Don J Melnick, Yolanda Kakabadse Navarro, Jeffrey McNeely, Guido Schmidt-Traub, Robin R Sears
Ensuring environmental sustainability is essential to achieving all the Millennium Development Goals. Longterm solutions to problems of drinking-water shortages, hunger, poverty, gender inequality, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, maternal and childhood health, extreme local weather and global climate changes, and conflicts over natural resources need systematic strategies to achieve environmental sustainability. For this reason, the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Environmental Sustainability has concluded that protection of the environment is an essential prerequisite and component of human health and wellbeing.1 Economic development and good health are not at odds with environmental sustainability: they depend on it.
One important dimension of environmental sustainability is the need to maintain ecosystem services critical to the human population. These services include providing food, shelter, and construction materials; regulating the quantity and quality of fresh water; limiting soil erosion and regenerating nutrients; controlling pests and alien invasive species; providing pollination; buffering human, wild plant, and animal populations from interspecific transfer and spread of diseases; and stabilising local weather conditions and sequestering greenhouse gases to contain climate change. A second and equally important dimension of environmental sustainability is the need to control water pollution and air pollution, including the emission of
greenhouse gases that drive climate change. These socalled brown issues can have a severe effect on human health and ecosystem function.
Natural systems worldwide are being degraded at unprecedented rates. Standing forests, particularly in
the tropics and subtropics, are disappearing at a rate of over 10–15 million hectares per year. If current trends persist, southeast Asia, for example, will probably lose up to 75% of its original forest and 42% of its original wildlife species by 2100.2 The highly fragmented forests that remain will be greatly diminished in their ability to provide the goods and services outlined above. Deforestation can further increase the risk of natural disasters, as evidenced by the deadly landslides in the Philippines in November, 2004, after steep slopes above several towns were denuded.