UN issues world alert over species extinction rates

Red Squirrels

Humanity faces an ecological catastrophe after dragging one million species of animals and plants towards extinction, a devastating report by the world’s leading scientists has said.

The United Nations (UN) alert revealed that wildlife and habitats are disappearing at an “unprecedented” rate worldwide, creating a direct threat to human life.

They warned the speed of the deterioration is a consequence of human activity and the most rapid since records began, and said the world must act now to transform the economy and society in order to protect nature.

The worldwide assessment into the planet’s health, from the highly respected Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), involved more than 450 experts from 50 countries and took three years to complete.

“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 IPBES report is the first intergovernmental study of its kind and builds on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, introducing innovative ways of evaluating evidence.

Assessing the health of the natural world

Based on the review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the report also draws on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to indigenous peoples and local communities.

It found three-quarters of the world’s land has been significantly altered by humans, while 66% of the oceans are experiencing increasing impacts, and 85% of wetlands have been lost since 1700.

However, areas managed by indigenous people and local communities, which accounts to at least one-quarter of the global land area, is generally declining less rapidly than other lands. 

Evaluating the changes to the natural world over the last 50 years, during which time the human population has doubled and demand for resources has increased, the report set out scenarios for the future which could help to mitigate the damage already done to the environment. 

For example, reforming supply chains and reducing food waste in agriculture, moving away from concentrating on economic growth, establishing effective fishing quotas, reducing run-off pollution into the oceans and creating more green space in cities.

Professor Josef Settele, who co-chaired the assessment, said: “The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed. This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human wellbeing in all regions of the world.”

The report also found more than 40% of amphibians, 33% of corals and 10% of insects are threatened with extinction, while at least 680 species of vertebrates, a group which includes animals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians, have been driven to extinction since the 16th century.

Threatened species in the UK

In response to the report, Friends of the Earth published a list of the most at risk species in the UK and Europe, including the Skylark which has declined by 50% over the past 40 years across Europe. The reason for its falling numbers are primarily man-made, in part thanks to changes in farming practices that have resulted in the loss of nesting sites and food sources.

The Small Blue Butterfly, bees and hoverflies are in large decline due to loss of habitat, climate change, pesticides and disease. 

Red Squirrels, wildcats and long-eared bats are also facing severe threats to their survival from a number of sources, including invasive species, road deaths and the use of pesticides. Additionally, almost half of rural hedgehogs in the UK and a third in urban areas have been lost, the charity said. 

Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to human wellbeing – if we don’t reverse its decline we are risking a future where we can’t even grow the food we need for basic survival. The continued drop of our plants and wildlife would also leave a huge void in what makes us happy and healthy, with access to nature crucial to welfare. 

A nature-depleted world will suffer more from natural disasters such as landslides and floods. We’re already seeing this around the world, with the planet’s poorest communities suffering the most. This is the cruellest injustice of the climate and ecological crisis, with those who have barely contributed to it bearing the brunt of the impacts.”

It is hoped the evidence in the report will help form policies and action and provide the basis for new global targets to protect nature, which will be negotiated at a UN meeting in China in 2020.

Read the full article The UN Issues World Alert Over ‘Direct Threat to Humanity’ at The Herald.

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