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Looking Ahead to Maryland 2050:
Living in Our Environment

December 2006 Workshop
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Global outlook for sustainability by 2050

Concerns about sustainability in the 21st century have prompted comprehensive global studies that look at present worldwide trends and provide forecasts, scenarios and visions for the future, with the aim of clarifying paths to a truly sustainable development, anticipating future problems, providing guidance for long-term planning and encouraging action at all levels.

The following are overviews of three important global studies, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Road to 2050, and Living Planet Report 2006 that are directly relevant to the objectives of Maryland 2050:

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)

Text adapted from: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC. (Full report, PDF 15 MB)

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) is an international work program launched by the United Nations in 2001 and designed to meet the needs of decision makers and the public for scientific information concerning the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and options for responding to those changes. The global assessment was launched in March 2005 with the input and review of over 1,300 authors from 95 countries; a truly comprehensive and highly authoritative assessment of the state of the planet. The MA synthesizes information from the scientific literature, datasets, and scientific models, and includes knowledge held by the private sector, practitioners, local communities and indigenous peoples. The MA has helped build individual and institutional capacity to undertake integrated ecosystem assessments, identify priorities for action and act on the findings. It will help to meet assessment needs of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, as well as needs of other users in governments, private sector and civil society.

The MA focuses on ecosystem services, how changes in ecosystem services* have affected human well-being** and how ecosystem changes may affect people in future decades. Both ecosystem services and human well-being are affected by drivers of change, such as globalization, technological developments, land use change, population growth, climate change and others. The trends of these drivers may vary significantly by 2050 depending on how the world moves forward in the next decades. To account for this array of possibilities, the MA contemplates four global scenarios of the world in 2050. The scenarios explored two global development paths, one in which the world becomes increasingly globalized and the other in which it becomes increasingly regionalized; as well as two different approaches to ecosystem management, one in which actions are reactive and most problems are addressed only after they become obvious and the other in which ecosystem management is proactive and policies deliberately seek to maintain ecosystem services for the long term. The global outcomes for ecosystem changes and human well-being are significantly different under each of the four scenarios.

*Ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as regulation of floods, drought, land degradation, and disease; supporting services such as soil formation and nutrient cycling; and cultural services such as recreational, spiritual, religious and other nonmaterial benefits.

**Human well-being. Human well-being has multiple constituents, including basic material for a good life, freedom of choice and action, health, good social relations, and security. Well-being is at the opposite end of a continuum from poverty, which has been defined as a ‘‘pronounced deprivation in well-being.’’ The constituents of well-being, as experienced and perceived by people, are situation-dependent, reflecting local geography, culture, and ecological circumstances.

The MA presents four key findings:

“1. Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

2. The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.

3. The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

4. The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services can be partially met under some scenarios that the MA has considered, but these involve significant changes in policies, institutions, and practices that are not currently under way. Many options exist to conserve or enhance specific ecosystem services in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services.”

Source: MEA. 2005. p.1

Current trends:

Given the multitude of factors contemplated by the MA, a summary of current trends is not attempted here. For the best snapshot view of the current global trends of ecosystem services, we recommend looking at Table 1, page 7, and Figure 13, page 16 of the MA Synthesis report. Table 2.1. on pages 42-45 provides a more detailed view of Table 1. Please browse the PDF document to get to those tables. The global trend for the different topics covered by Maryland 2050 is given in the issue summaries.

Projections by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for 2050:

Since the MA explored 4 different scenarios: Global Orchestration (Globalized and Reactive), Order from Strength (Regionalized and Reactive), Adapting Mosaic (Regionalized and Proactive) and Technogarden (Globalized and Proactive) there are 4 different sets of projected outcomes for the state of the world’s ecosystem services and human well-being by 2050 . Descriptions of each scenario are found on pages 71-73 of the MA Synthesis Report - the assumptions of each scenario are specified on Table 5.1, page 76 and the outcomes are summarized in Table 5.2. Overall, Maryland and the world would seem to benefit more from the scenarios “Adapting Mosaic” and “Technogarden”, less so form “Global Orchestration” and least of all by “Order from Strength”.

Documents and additional resources:



This report by the World Bank underlines the main challenges that the world must face to achieve a wealthier and more equitable planet by 2050. These challenges are natural resource management, better governance, socially sustainable development, agricultural productivity, and climate change. All of these must be addressed to successfully accomplish such a vision. “The Road to 2050” deliberately sets an optimistic scenario of a wealthier and more equitable world, and highlights the key policy fields where action must be taken to ensure such a goal, including areas not covered in detail by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, such as governance and social policy.

The world in 2050 is projected to show big demographic and economic changes as compared to the world today. Human population is likely to increase by 50% from 6 billion today to 9 billion in 2050, with most of the increase occurring in developing countries. In terms of the economy, if a projected GDP yearly growth of 3.3% in developing countries and 2% in industrial countries is realized, the total size of the global economy would increase almost four-fold from $35 trillion today to $135 trillion in 2050. 60% of that GDP will remain in industrial countries according to those projections. The combination of a larger economy and a larger population will make the challenges more pressing.

In terms of Natural Resource Management, the report highlights the role that natural resources play in development, and the need for improved management at all levels, especially in low-income countries where development is more dependent on these resources. It also emphasizes the need for accounting the natural resources component in measures of wealth and development, for instance, incorporating measures of ecosystem services.

The importance of good governance as a factor in development is underlined, indicating that improvements are necessary both in developing and in industrial countries, in the public and private sectors, and very importantly, in the international arena. Attacking the problem of corruption is a central aspect of good governance.

Socially sustainable development is referred to as the active inclusion of social concerns, community participation and community empowerment in the development agenda. Addressing violent conflict in different countries is an important part of this component.

Clearly, with a larger and wealthier population, the increase in demand for food is an enormous challenge, so agricultural productivity needs to be increased. The report calls for major worldwide cooperation and targeted investments in agricultural research and development that look for intensification, efficiency and environmental stewardship.

Climate change is considered as a major threat for world stability and a growing constraint for an economic growth based on unchecked energy consumption. Therefore, the report highlights the need to pursue energy efficiency at all levels in order to minimize emissions, while understanding that some climate change is inevitable and thus adaptation strategies need to be crafted as well.

Reference: The Road to 2050. Sustainable Development for the 21st Century. 2006. The World Bank. Washington D.C.


Living Planet Report 2006

WWF recently released its “Living Planet Report 2006”, a periodical report on the state of the world’s ecosystems as measured by the Living Planet Index and the global Ecological Footprint. The Living Planet Index measures trends in the Earth’s biological diversity, tracking populations of 1,313 species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals from around the world. The products are separate indices for terrestrial, marine, and freshwater species, and an aggregated average index, which is a proxy for monitoring the health of ecosystems. Between 1970 and 2003, the index fell by about 30%, suggesting that the degradation of natural ecosystems is at an unprecedented rate in history

The Ecological Footprint is a measure of the area of biologically productive land and water needed by an average citizen to sustain his/her lifestyle, in terms of provision of ecological resources and services – food, fiber and timber, land on which to build, and land to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) released by burning fossil fuels. Since the late 1980s, WWF points out that humanity has been in overshoot – the Ecological Footprint has exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity – as of 2003 by about 25%. Effectively, the Earth’s regenerative capacity is no longer able to keep up with societal demand.

Projections into the future are grim, suggesting that both biodiversity and human well-being are threatened in the coming decades, and the likelihood of ecosystem collapses is increasingly likely. WWF points out that change towards sustainability by 2050 is possible, but depends to a great extent on actions and policies carried out today.

Source: Living Planet Report 2006. WWF, Global Footprint Network, Zoological Society of London. 2006. (3 November 2006)


The importance of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for the Maryland 2050 project cannot be overstated. It is an assessment of the current state of knowledge concerning the consequences of ecosystem changes for human well-being, and very useful to guide decisions on complex issues, the sort of which are being discussed by MD 2050. The scenarios might be used as a starting framework to think about plausible futures for the state. The MA also sheds light on the areas of consensus within the scientific community, as well as those where uncertainty is the norm and more research and information is necessary.

The MA intends to be policy relevant yet not policy prescriptive, and it identifies response options that could be adopted at local, national, or global scales to improve ecosystem management and thereby contribute to human well-being, poverty alleviation, and development and sustainability goals. The MA provides tools for planning and management, as well as foresight concerning the consequences of decisions affecting ecosystems. When thinking about environmental policies that will help have a better Maryland by 2050, the MA is a reference point to look at their effectiveness, limitations, interactions and trade-offs.

In addition to its distinct focus on ecosystems and human well-being, the MA includes another pioneering aspect that distinguishes it from past ‘global’ assessments. It is being conducted as a ‘multi-scale’ assessment at local community, watershed, national and regional scales, as well at the global scale. The sub-global assessments will directly meet the needs of decision-makers at the scale at which they are undertaken, strengthen the global findings with on-the-ground reality, and strengthen the local findings with global perspectives, data, and models. As of March, 2005 there were 33 official and associated sub-global assessments, most of which will have reports available in 2006. Although Maryland 2050 is not one of these assessments, their experience is invaluable in guiding our work.

The “Road to 2050” report, although much simpler in content, is a good complement to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment when looking at Maryland 2050, because it underscores the set of goals that the world ought to look at according to the World Bank in order to achieve sustainable development by the middle of this century. Those goals, placed into the Maryland context, can certainly feed the discussion about the future of the State.

The Living Planet Report 2006 is relevant for Maryland 2050 because it reminds Marylanders of their responsibility towards the rest of the world in terms of sustainability, both in terms of ensuring the health of species and ecosystems and of reducing the impact of consumption and economic activity on the earth's bio capacity, given that the United States has one of the highest ecological footprints per capita in the world.