The world is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, with one million species facing extinction due to habitat loss and climate change, according to a landmark new study from the United Nations. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report, the most comprehensive study on humankind’s impact on life on earth, said that nature is now declining at rates that are unprecedented in human history, with dire consequences for civilisation.
“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” the IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson, said.
The numbers in the report are frighteningly large. Three-quarters of the land-based environment and two-thirds of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human activity, the IPBES found. Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980; more than 40 per cent of all amphibians, a third of reef-forming corals and a third of marine mammals are threatened with extinction.
The consequences of the over-use of natural resources are severe. Nearly a quarter of the global land surface is experiencing productivity loss due to degradation; US$577 billion worth of crops are at risk due to the loss of pollinators. A third of marine fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels, with a further 60 per cent maximally sustainably fished.
“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the report. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
Biodiversity and ecosystem services form the vital underpinning to human development, the IPBES said, and a failure to address species and habitat loss will undermine progress towards the vast majority of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The report’s authors said that the main drivers of this crisis are, in order: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive species, although they noted that, should global warming worsen as a result of continuing inactivity on carbon emissions, that its impacts on biodiversity are only likely to increase.
All is not lost, the IPBES said, but concerted, transformative change is needed across economies.
“It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” Watson said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”
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