The assessment represents more than a catalog of environmental problems, Mooney noted. By evaluating the trade-offs that accompany decisions about ecosystem services, it will identify priorities on local, regional and global scales. In a particular area, for example, it can help policymakers decide whether the benefits of increasing food production will outweigh the effects on water quality and biodiversity by giving them the information they need to make tough decisions.
A substantial body of work addressing specific aspects of the assessment will follow this month's release of the global synthesis report. A report on global biodiversity will be available in May; a report on desertification is due out in June; and reports related to wetlands, the role of the private sector and impacts on human health are scheduled for July. According to Mooney, these topics were chosen because the organizations that oversee major international treaties dealing with biological systems requested the information. The lack of adequate data to uphold such treaties is what helped convince the United Nations to initiate the program, he added.
In September, the assessment team will release five technical reports totaling nearly 2,500 pages and focusing on the ties between ecosystems and human well-being. A set of 33 case studies, termed sub-global assessments, also will be released in late 2005 or early 2006. Each case study will focus on a particular area, Mooney said.