One million species in danger of extinction

Gilles Toussaint
24 June 2019

Our activities are posing a serious threat to the future of humanity

 

Experts from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services have issued an indisputable verdict: human activities are putting untenable pressure on nature and threatening the future of humanity. Biodiversity and climate - the same fight.

"Unprecedented". At the end of a week of intense discussions, the representatives of 132 member countries of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) agreed a 40-page summary which recaps the main points of the first assessment of the state of global biodiversity. The report aims to allow the world's politicians to evaluate the dramatic damage caused to nature and, its authors hope, provide answers that are equal to the challenges.

The table released on Monday does not make cheerful reading; it is based on 15,000 scientific studies reviewed by 150 experts from some 50 countries. "Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history," stressed the authors, insisting on the fact that this "rate of species extinctions is accelerating." This fall will have grave and direct impacts on people. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," warned IPBES President Robert Watson.

 

One million

The IPBES report estimated that around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. Scientists believe that our planet is home to around eight million animal and plant species, including 5.5 million insect species.

They stated that there are five main drivers of this disaster: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of certain organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species.

All these drivers of destruction have accelerated in the last 50 years and can all be attributed to human actions. "Human actions are now threatening more species with extinction than ever before," stated the authors, who also stressed that this damage is 'less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities." These are people whose rights are themselves being challenged due to the growing pressure of private interests, as can be seen in the situation in the Amazon rainforest, which is targeted by the greed of agribusiness.

There are five main drivers of this disaster: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of certain organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species.

33% - Fish are taking on water

In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels and 60% were maximally sustainably fished. 55% of the ocean area is currently covered by industrial fishing.

Exploitation of forests, mining resources, freshwater resources, etc. "Over the last 50 years, the global human population has doubled, the global economy is almost four times higher and world trade has significantly increased, leading to a soaring demand for energy and materials," according to IPBES, which stressed that consumption levels of materials vary significantly around the world and that a large percentage of the population does not have access to these. There is a risk that these inequalities will increase and lead to social instability and conflict. The report clearly shows that this consumption dynamic is untenable in the long term, noting the link between an increase in economic growth and the destruction of nature.

The text also states that climate change is already having an impact on ecosystems and species. This impact will continue to grow and its extent will depend on our ability to limit the rise in the average global temperature.

Approximately a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by land clearing, crop production and fertilisation, according to the authors, who noted the major contribution of animal rearing to this phenomenon. Although small farms (under two hectares) generally have a wealth of biodiversity while providing almost one third of the world's food supply, the same cannot be said of agri-industry sectors.

On this issue, IPBES noted that 68% of foreign capital going to the soya and beef sectors (main cause of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest) goes through tax havens. The financial support provided by OECD countries for a type of agriculture that is potentially harmful to the environment was estimated at 100 billion dollars in 2015.

The report clearly shows that this consumption dynamic is untenable in the long term, noting the link between an increase in economic growth and the destruction of nature.

70% of the terrestrial environment

has been "severely altered" by human actions which also affect 40% of marine environments.  The number of "dead zones" in the oceans is increasing due to the effects of different types of pollution.

As things stand, there is no doubt that the Aichi Targets adopted in 2010 to halt the erosion of biodiversity by 2020 have not been achieved. It is still not too late to avoid heading straight for disaster if we take action immediately, claim the IPBES experts, who have explored six possible strategies, which led to one major conclusion: without "transformative change", the decline of nature and the services it gives to humans will continue, with catastrophic consequences. For this to happen, we need to produce differently, consume less and better, protect those ecosystems that can still be protected and restore those already damaged as much as we can.

During the next meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in China next year, we will see if their message has been heard. And, more importantly, understood.

 

This article has been published before in La Libre.

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