United Nations
Environment Programme

About Ecosystems

Humans depend on healthy and productive ecosystems to meet their basic needs, but many people’s needs are not being met sustainably – if at all. An estimated 795 million people suffer from hunger and 1.2 billion live in water-stressed areas. At the same time, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are expected to continue, or even accelerate. The demand for ecosystem goods and services is predicted to further increase: by 2030, the world will require 40% more water, 50% more food, 40% more energy and 40% more timber and fibre. This demand can only be met if ecosystems are sustainably managed to meet both ecological and human needs in the future.

What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit.

An ecosystem includes all living things (plants, animals and organisms) in a given area, as well as their interactions with each other, and with their non-living environments (weather, earth, sun, soil, climate, atmosphere). Each organism in an ecosystem has a role to play and contributes to maintaining the health and productivity of an ecosystem.

Ecosystems promote human well-being through the various services they provide.

Human well-being depends on the health of the ecosystems that envelope and sustain us. We rely on ecosystems for the food, water and timber we need for everyday living. We depend on ecosystem processes to regulate natural cycles and keep diseases at bay. We rely on them for recreation, educational purposes and mental and physical enrichment.

What is an integrated approach to ecosystem management?

Integrated ecosystem management focuses on sustaining ecosystems to meet both ecological and human needs. Ecosystem management is responsive to changing needs and new information. It promotes a shared vision of desired outcomes by integrating social, environmental and economic perspectives into managing our ecological foundation.

“An integrated approach to ecosystem management recognizes the growing pressure on natural resources and seeks to reconcile competing demands and interdependencies in order to achieve all 17 SDGs”

UNEP fosters the transition towards integrated and multi-dimensional ecosystem management by strengthening six of the key building blocks for ensuring that ecosystem management delivers on all our needs as well as those of future generations.

  • 70% of the planet is covered by water

  • 2.5% of the planet’s water is freshwater

  • 25% of land area is rangeland

  • 80% of terrestrial biodiversity is in forests

  • Less than 30% of terrestrial areas are forested 

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