One million of the planet’s 8 million species of plants and animals are at risk of going extinct in the near future. Scientists blame human activities that have led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species.
“Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history” with “grave impacts to people around the world now likely.” This from the most comprehensive assessment of diversity to date, by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
The world’s population has doubled since 1970, the global economy has grown four-fold, while international trade has increased 10 times over. To feed, clothe and give energy to this burgeoning world, forests have been cleared at astonishing rates, especially in tropical areas. Between 1980 and 2000, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost, mainly from cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantations in South East Asia. Faring worse than forests are wetlands, with only 13% of those present in 1700 still in existence in the year 2000. Our cities have expanded rapidly, with urban areas doubling since 1992. All this human activity is killing species in greater numbers than ever before.
The report, which did not list individual species, found that 25 percent of mammals, more than 40 percent of amphibian species, nearly 33 percent of sharks and 25 percent of plant groups are threatened with extinction. Based on these proportions, the researchers estimated that approximately 1 million animal and plant species could die out, many “within decades.”
The assessment also finds that soils are being degraded as never before. This has reduced the productivity of 23% of the land surface of the Earth. Our insatiable appetites are producing a mountain of waste. Plastic pollution has increased ten-fold since 1980. Every year we dump 300-400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes into the waters of the world.
It’s a similar story at sea. Only 3% of the world’s oceans were described as free from human pressure in 2014. Fish are being exploited as never before, with 33% of fish stocks harvested at unsustainable levels in 2015. Live coral cover on reefs has nearly halved over the past 150 years. Pushing all this forward, though, are increased demands for food from a growing global population and specifically our growing appetite for meat and fish.
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. The report urges “advancing and aligning local, national and international sustainability efforts and mainstreaming biodiversity and sustainability across all extractive and productive sectors, including mining, fisheries, forestry and agriculture.”
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.
Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people.