The newest United Nations report on global biodiversity has officially been released and it solidifies what the initial draft warned: human exploitation of the environment has pushed one million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction.
Conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the report details findings conducted by a team of hundreds of experts from 50 nations. Conclusions from the report warn of the “accelerating” and “unprecedented” extinction rates due to the human-caused climate crisis as well as ominous tidings for the future of human society as we know it.
“This is the most thorough, the most detailed and most extensive planetary health check. The take-home message is that we should have gone to the doctor sooner. We are in a bad way,” says Andy Purvis, professor at the Natural History Museum in London and a lead author on the report. “I cannot overstate it. If we leave it to later generations to clear up the mess, I don’t think they will forgive us.”
“Society we would like our children and grandchildren to live in is in real jeopardy.”
According to the report the top five direct drivers of change in nature that have global impacts are:
1: Change in land & sea use.
2: Direct exploitation of organisms.
3: Climate Change
5: Invasive Species.
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “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.”
Watson stresses that, “It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global. 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.”
More than 40% of amphibian species are at risk, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than 1/3 of all marine mammals. Many plant and animal species risk extinction within decades.
“[There is] very little of the planet left that has not been significantly altered by us,” Sandra Diaz, co-author of the report and professor of ecology at the University of Córdoba, says. “We need to act as stewards for life on Earth.”
Findings are based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, as well as (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
Additional notable findings from the report include:
- Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
- More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
- The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
- Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
- In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
- Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
- Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
- Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.