PARIS, France, May 6, 2019 (ENS) – Nearly one million species are at risk of becoming extinct within decades, and current efforts to conserve the Earth’s resources will likely fail without “radical action,” a United Nations report by hundreds of biodiversity experts warned on Monday.
Without such action, there will be a “further acceleration” in the global rate of species extinction, which is already “at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years,” the report states.
Presented to more than 130 government delegations for their approval at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services shows that one in four species on Earth today is at risk of extinction.
The report features the work of 400 experts from at least 50 countries, coordinated by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, based in Germany and headed by Sir Robert Watson, the British chemist and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, (1997-2002).
IPBES’ stated mission is to “strengthen policy-making for the sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.”
“The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being,” Sir Robert said. “Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. Policies, efforts and actions – at every level – will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence.”
In an effort to rely on the best knowledge and evidence, this assessment is the first of its kind to include and examine indigenous and local knowledge, issues and priorities.
Speaking in Paris today at the launch of the Global Assessment study – the first since 2005 – UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said that the report’s findings put the world “on notice.”
“Following the adoption of this historic report, no one will be able to claim that they did not know,” said the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. “We can no longer continue to destroy the diversity of life. This is our responsibility towards future generations.”
Azoulay said that protecting the diversity of species “is as vital as fighting climate change.”
Who’s to blame? Humans, of Course.
Human activities “threaten more species now than ever before,” states the report, a finding based on the fact that around 25 percent of species in both plant and animal groups are vulnerable to extinction.
This suggests that around one million species “already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss.”
The report examines five main drivers of “unprecedented” biodiversity and ecosystem change over the past 50 years: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change, pollution, and invasion of alien species.
Many of humanity’s closest relatives, the primates, are in danger of extinction. About 90 percent of primates – monkeys, lemurs, lorids, galagos, tarsiers, and apes as well as humans, live in tropical forests, which are being cleared at an unprecedented rate.
Food Security At Risk
The assessmentt reveals that the plants and animals humans rely on for food are disappearing. Despite many local efforts, including by indigenous peoples and local communities, by 2016, 559 of the 6,190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture were extinct, around nine percent of the total, and at least 1,000 more are threatened.
Many wild relatives of domesticated food crops that are needed for long-term food security “lack effective protection,” the report warns, while the status of wild relatives of domesticated mammals and birds “is worsening.”
Reductions in the diversity of cultivated crops, crop wild relatives and domesticated breeds mean that farming will likely be less resilient to future climate change, pests and pathogens.
“While more food, energy and materials than ever before are now being supplied to people in most places, this is increasingly at the expense of nature’s ability to provide such contributions in the future,” the report states, adding that “the biosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends…is declining faster than at any time in human history.”
Increasing demand for water, the damming of rivers throughout the world, the dumping and accumulation of pollutants, and invasive species make aquatic ecosystems some of the most threatened on the planet, explains the U.S.-based nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. It does not surprise this organization that many fish species are endangered in both freshwater and marine habitats.
Marine Pollution Has Multiplied By Ten Since 1980
On the issue of pollution, although global trends are mixed, air, water and soil pollution have continued to increase in some areas, the biodiversity scientists report.
“Marine plastic pollution, in particular, has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species,” their report says, including 86 percent of marine turtles, 44 percent of seabirds and 43 percent of marine mammals.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, which maintains the authoritative Red List of Threatened Species, welcomes the Global Assessment, which it says, “reveals the severity of the loss of living nature and its grave consequences for humans.”
The IUCN Red List, which assesses the extinction risk of nearly 100,000 species, was key in informing the IPBES assessment. The IUCN Red List shows that threats vary greatly in severity, both across species groups and geographically.
The List shows that areas in the tropics, on islands, and in mountains are facing more severe biodiversity loss, while corals are declining faster than many other species.
“The IPBES report shows that on average, a quarter of species in vertebrate and plant groups assessed on the IUCN Red List are threatened with extinction,” said Dr. Thomas Brooks, IUCN’s chief scientist and a review editor of the report.
“The novelty of this report is the fact that it was both requested and accepted by governments, marking the first time governments send an unequivocal message on the crisis of nature and what can be done to solve it. IUCN calls on governments and all sectors of society to seek urgent solutions to the grave biodiversity crisis highlighted in the report.”
The IPBES report also graphs the increasing number of extinctions over the last 500 years, and the Red List Index, which shows the rate at which species groups are sliding towards extinction. The IUCN Red List now includes 98,512 species, of which 27,159 are threatened with extinction, including over 40 percent of amphibians, 34 percent of conifers, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals and 14 percent of birds.
Amphibians are at greatest risk. The IUCN Red List shows that 41 percent are threatened with extinction primarily due to habitat loss, pollution, fires, climate change, disease and over-exploitation.
The IPBES assessment documents the costs of biodiversity loss in terms of 18 classes of ecosystem services, described in the report as “nature’s contributions to people”, and considers these in terms of economic implications but also with respect to their social, cultural and spiritual values. The inclusion of indigenous and local perspectives on the emergency facing nature is fundamental given that indigenous peoples manage or have tenure rights over about a quarter of the land’s surface.
The Assessment also provides much reason to hope. It synthesizes evidence for the effectiveness of a wide variety of actions that governments and other sectors of society can implement to halt the biodiversity crisis.
“The IPBES assessment documents the importance of safeguarding key biodiversity areas – sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity – as a prime example of effective conservation actions,” commented Dr. Stuart Butchart, a contributing lead author of the report, and chief scientist of BirdLife International, an IUCN Member organization. “The assessment emphasizes that protecting key biodiversity areas is crucial not just on land but also within marine and freshwater ecosystems, and in cities.”
The report graphs the protection of key biodiversity areas by combining the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas, maintained by BirdLife International on behalf of the Key Biodiversity Areas Partnership, with the World Database on Protected Areas, maintained by UN Environment’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre and IUCN.
IUCN standards underpin both databases, which together provide an official UN indicator for Sustainable Development Goal Targets 14.5, by 2020, conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas; 15.1, By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands; and 15.4, by 2030 ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, to enhance their capacity to provide benefits which are essential for sustainable development.
In addition to offering exhaustive insights on the state of nature, ecosystems and the ways in which nature supports all human activity, the study assesses progress on key international goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Agreement on climate change.