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Report issues dire sustainability warning -

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Report issues dire sustainability warning

Reporter: Brett Evans

TONY JONES: A worldwide report compiled by more than 1,000 international experts which was released
today warns that environmental damage to the planet is becoming so severe that it's threatening our
ability to sustain future generations. The 'Millennium Ecosystem Assessment' is the biggest
scientific collaboration ever attempted, involving 1,300 experts in 95 countries. Brett Evans looks
at the findings.

BRETT EVANS: The scientific community delivered a stark warning to the world today - our planet's
environment is living on borrowed time.

DR ROBERT WATSON, WORLD BANK CHIEF SCIENTIST: The key issues that we face are collapse of fisheries
across the world. The dry land areas, where population increases are greatest, are really in
threat. Water scarcity is everywhere.

BRETT EVANS: Launched by the World Bank's chief scientist, the report tells a grim story of
environmental degradation. It identifies the destruction of river systems, the overfarming methods
of modern agriculture, and the overlogging of forests as damaging the ecosystems we depend on for
our survival.

DR ROBERT WATSON: There's about a third of the world's population already lives in water-scarce or
water-stressed areas. It's probably going to double in the next 25 years to two-thirds of the
world's population. If we don't start to manage our water much more sensibly, we really will be in
severe shape.

BRETT EVANS: Four years in the making, the report has brought together the work of hundreds of
researchers from around the world, and one of the report's key contributors was in Sydney today
courtesy of the Lowy Institute.

LORD ROBERT MAY, ROYAL SOCIETY PRESIDENT: We are now in a race between our cleverness in
understanding things and the risk that all the various ways we're messing around with the
environment are producing new kinds of hazards.

BRETT EVANS: Australian-born professor Lord Robert May is a former chief scientific officer to the
British government and currently President of the Royal Society, one of the world's pre-eminent
scientific organisations. He is particularly concerned about protecting the diversity of the
Earth's plants and animals.

LORD ROBERT MAY: The number we've actually named and recorded is about 1.5 million. We're adding
about 10,000 a year, but the total may be 10 million or so. Not only do we not know particularly of
the little things, the things in the soil, but we're very uncertain as to how much of that
diversity we can lose and still have ecological systems deliver services that our own lives may
depend on.

BRETT EVANS: At the heart of the report is the idea that the environment supplies us with a vast
number of essential services.

LORD ROBERT MAY: They're things like bees and other things that pollinate plants. They're things
like mangrove swamps and estuaries that are breeding grounds for fishes, or estuaries that clean
rivers. They're large and they are not counted in conventional GDP.

BRETT EVANS: Lord May accepts it is difficult to motivate people about events which they think may
be some time off in the future.

LORD ROBERT MAY: It's difficult to get people agitated about something that's not going to happen
within the next few years. That's a problem for climate change as well. And the really serious
things are unfolding on the scale of decades, if not a century - and yet small actions now are more
important than the bigger actions we'll have to take later if we don't act now.

BRETT EVANS: According to Lord May, the human race must learn to tread more softly upon the Earth -
or accept the consequences.

LORD ROBERT MAY: Overall, the average footprint cast by humanity - and these are imprecise
calculations - appears roughly to have gone beyond that which is sustainable about 10 years ago.
Now, that's all very rough. Maybe it hasn't yet, maybe it occurred 20 years ago. But we're at that
point in history.

BRETT EVANS: And beyond this point in history? Lord May thinks that human civilisation will
survive, but at some cost.

LORD ROBERT MAY: We'll be clever enough to hang on in there in a world something like the cult
movie Bladerunner, and that leads to an ethical question which is less human-centred, which is - is
that the kind of world we really want?

BRETT EVANS: Despite the report's scientific pedigree, the federal Environment Minister isn't so
sure that it accurately describes the world.

SENATOR IAN CAMPBELL, FEDERAL ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Can we do more? Yes, we can. Do we need to
invest more? Yes, we do. Will that occur by apocalyptic reports that exaggerate the problems or
minimise the chance of finding solutions? I don't think that's a good way to go forward. So more
information is a good thing, but it needs to be accurate and it needs to be in context.

BRETT EVANS: The report's authors say they want to influence policy-makers. Obviously they'll have
to try harder. Brett Evans, Lateline.