Humanity faces unprecedented biodiversity crisis, report warns

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Photo taken on May 21, 2018 shows a Pelophylax Kurtmuelleri frog on the shores of an artificial lake near the town of Thessaloniki, Greece. The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. Xinhua/Dimitris Tosidis

“Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history,” warns a report on biodiversity, drafted for the United Nations (UN) by a group of 145 experts from across the world.

According to the unprecedented study, nearly one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction in the decades to come. The experts call for serious action on a global scale ahead of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), which will take place at the end of 2020 in Kunming, China.

Most Violent Biological Crisis

The conclusions of the report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) are stark: humanity is faced with the most violent biological crisis since the beginning of the modern era. Of the nearly one million animal and plant species in danger of extinction, many are at risk in the next decades.

Without swift and decisive action on local and international levels, one out of eight species could disappear in the medium term, warn the experts working for the UN.

Several studies with converging conclusions have already sounded the alarm in the past, but the IPBES report — which claims to be the “most comprehensive assessment of its kind” — has sent a shockwave through the media and the public worldwide.

Citizen initiatives and calls for civil disobedience campaigns are multiplying across Europe, with the aim of putting pressure on governments accused of “climate inaction” or even of “ecocide” (killing of ecosystems).

Gathered in Metz in eastern France under the French Presidency of the G7, the world’s most industrialized countries — the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy — signed on Monday a charter on biodiversity, which nevertheless carries no legal obligations.

In this context, the COP15 on biodiversity will be a critical meeting point for world leaders.

“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,” declared Sir Robert Watson, chair of IPBES.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” he said. The current rate of extinction is dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of times higher than the average of the last 10 million years, affirmed the IPBES report.

Call For More Efforts

Undertaken during the last three years by 145 experts, based on a systematic review of approximately 15,000 scientific references and governmental sources, and supported by the contributions of 310 additional experts, the study evaluates the changes at work during the last 5 decades and analyzes the relationship between the trajectories of economic development and their impacts on the environment.

“Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species’ extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely,” summarizes the IPBES in a press release.

The experts point a finger at five causes, all originating with humans: natural habitat destruction, overexploitation of resources, climate change, all types of pollution, and the increase of invasive species.

The experts stress the need for a mode of development less destructive for nature and for indispensable financing — including fair burden-sharing between rich and poor countries — of biodiversity preservation and restoration.

Today, more than 8 billion euros (8.93 billion U.S. dollars) per year are dedicated to biodiversity preservation and restoration worldwide. Between 200 and 300 billion euros per year would be needed, argued the IPBES.

The report also underlines that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, provoking a rise in average global temperatures of at least 0.7 degrees Celsius. Climate change already has an impact on the environment, from ecosystems to genetic diversity, the consequences of which should increase in the coming decades.

In 2010, during the Aichi Biological Diversity Conference in Japan, political leaders fixed ambitious objectives, which are far from being achieved. The COP15 on biodiversity will therefore be a critical meeting.

“We still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for the people and the planet,” said IPBES scientists. This would necessitate a “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values,” they wrote in their press release.

The researchers insist on the need for major economic reform, with strict controls, especially on financial systems, as well as for private interests to be set aside for the common good.

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