MacArthur's Jorgen Thomsen on Addressing Environmental Challenges of 21st Century
December 8, 2011 | Commentary | Conservation & Sustainable Development

Originally posted on RE:Philanthropy blog, MacArthur Director of Conservation and Sustainable Development Jorgen Thomsen discusses the importance of strong, diverse, and thriving ecosystems.

The conservation of ecosystems is one of the most compelling environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Vital to human well-being, ecosystems and their biodiversity provide food and water; regulate floods, drought, and disease; and support soil formation and pollination. They also have intangible value as places of spiritual significance. All these are vital services, essential to economies as well as to local, regional, and national economies and governments.

But ecosystems are undergoing acute and accelerating damage. Sixty percent of ecosystem services have been degraded over the last 50 years, with direct, measurable economic and social repercussions. Pressure on resources is likely to spark conflicts within and between nations.

In 2011, the MacArthur Foundation launched a new conservation strategy that focuses on slowing this degradation of ecosystems and, eventually, reversing it. The new strategy expands MacArthur’s effort into production areas, where people and conflicts threaten biodiversity; focuses on coastal marine systems and watersheds; and support policy research and greater consideration of global issues, such as climate change and sustainable production. Specific components of the new strategy include:

  • New grants to create and expand incentives to conserve ecosystems; for example, by quantifying the value of nature and creating mechanisms to transform theoretical values into actual revenue for governments and communities.
  • New grants to assist the rural poor in securing and managing their traditional natural resources to improve their livelihoods.
  • Future grantmaking focusing on four major drivers of ecosystem decline globally, including global climate change and increasing demand for food, energy, and water.
  • New policy research and analysis grants to help us understand and respond to increased pressures from development and climate change, including production agriculture for food and biofuels.

Approximately two-thirds of the foundation’s new grantmaking in this field will center around four geographic focal areas selected for their potential to produce multiple benefits for people: the Great Lakes of East and Central Africa, the Greater Mekong and its Headwaters, the Watersheds of the Andes, and coastal marine (cross-regional).

To learn more about our grantmaking in this field, including the independent evaluation of our grantmaking, related white papers on emerging issues, a summary of the new grantmaking strategy, maps of the geographic focus areas, and an overview video explaining the new strategy, please visit

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