Nature’s dangerous decline threatening extinction of 1 million species

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Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history, caused by the decline of nature globally at rates unprecedented in human history, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“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.”

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he 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.”

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive ever completed. Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature.
Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

Key Findings

General

  • 75%: terrestrial environment “severely altered” to date by human actions (marine environments 66%)
  • +/-60 billion: tons of renewable and non-renewable resources extracted globally each year, up nearly 100% since 1980
  • 15%: increase in global per capita consumption of materials since 1980

Species, Populations and Varieties of Plants and Animals

  • Up to 1 million: species threatened with extinction, many within decades
  • >500,000 (+/-9%): share of the world’s estimated 5.9 million terrestrial species with insufficient habitat for long term survival without habitat restoration
  • >40%: amphibian species threatened with extinction
  • Almost 33%: reef forming corals, sharks and shark relatives, and >33% marine mammals threatened with extinction

Food and Agriculture

  • 300%: increase in food crop production since 1970
  • 23%: land areas that have seen a reduction in productivity due to land degradation
  • 5.6 gigatons: annual CO2 emissions sequestered in marine and terrestrial ecosystems – equivalent to 60% of global fossil fuel emission
  • +/-11%: world population that is undernourished
  • 100 million: hectares of agricultural expansion in the tropics from 1980 to 2000, mainly cattle ranching in Latin America (+/-42 million ha), and plantations in Southeast Asia (+/-7.5 million ha, of which 80% is oil palm), half of it at the expense of intact forests
  • >33%: world’s land surface (and +/-75% of freshwater resources) devoted to crop or livestock production
  • +/-25%: greenhouse gas emissions caused by land clearing, crop production and fertilization, with animal-based food contributing 75% to that figure

Oceans and Fishing

  • 33%: marine fish stocks in 2015 being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% are maximally sustainably fished; 7% are underfished
  • >55%: ocean area covered by industrial fishing
  • +/-50%: live coral cover of reefs lost since 1870s
  • 100-300 million: people in coastal areas at increased risk due to loss of coastal habitat protection

Forests

  • 45%: increase in raw timber production since 1970 (4 billion cubic meters in 2017)
  • 50%: agricultural expansion that occurred at the expense of forests
  • 50%: decrease in net rate of forest loss since the 1990s (excluding those managed for timber or agricultural extraction)

Urbanization, Development and Socioeconomic Issues

  • >100%: growth of urban areas since 1992
  • 105%: increase in global human population (from 3.7 to 7.6 billion) since 1970 unevenly across countries and regions
  • 50 times higher: per capita GDP in developed vs. least developed countries
  • >2,500: conflicts over fossil fuels, water, food and land currently occurring worldwide

Climate Change

  • >3 mm: annual average global sea level rise over the past two decades
  • 100% increase since 1980 in greenhouse gas emissions, raising average global temperature by at least 0.7 degree
  • 40%: rise in carbon footprint of tourism (to 4.5Gt of carbon dioxide) from 2009 to 2013
  • 8%: of total greenhouse gas emissions are from transport and food consumption related to tourism
  • 5%: estimated fraction of species at risk of extinction from 2°C warming  alone, rising to 16% at 4.3°C warming
  • Even for global warming of 1.5 to 2 degrees, the majority of terrestrial species ranges are projected to shrink profoundly.

Health

  • 70%: proportion of cancer drugs that are natural or synthetic products inspired by nature
  • +/-4 billion: people who rely primarily on natural medicines
  • 40%: of the global population lacks access to clean and safe drinking water
  • >80%: global wastewater discharged untreated into the environment
  • 300-400 million tons: heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes from industrial facilities dumped annually into the world’s waters
  • 10 times: increase in plastic pollution since 1980

“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 Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

UN Sustainable Development Goals at risk

Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.

“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” said Prof. Brondízio. “Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability.”

Actions for sustainability

The Report also presents a wide range of illustrative actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, finance and many others. It highlights the importance of, among others, adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.

Also identified as a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth.

“IPBES presents the authoritative science, knowledge and the policy options to decisionmakers for their consideration,” said IPBES Executive Secretary, Dr. Anne Larigauderie. “We thank the hundreds of experts, from around the world, who have volunteered their time and knowledge to help address the loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity – a truly global and generational threat to human well-being.”

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