Humans main cause of one million species at risk of extinction

One million animal and plant species could face extinction within the decade, according to the latest first-of-its-kind intergovernmental report on biodiversity.

In what is being described as the most comprehensive biodiversity study ever, the United Nations released on Saturday its assessment on the “unprecedented” decline of the natural world.

Written by 145 authors from 50 countries over the past three years, it is a systematic review of 150,000 published sources on biodiversity, by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (I.P.B.E.S.).

The report states the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20 per cent mostly since 1900. More than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost 33 per cent of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened, an I.P.B.E.S. media release states.

The report also reveals more than 9 per cent of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing,” said Professor Josef Settele, the German co-chair of the assessment. Mr. Settele is the Head of the Animal Ecology Social–Ecological Systems working group at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.

“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 well-being in all regions of the world,” he said.

The report intends to be relevant to policy makers, so has the “five direct drivers of change": changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution and invasive alien species.

And as highlighted by Pacific leaders around the region, biodiversity loss has a massive impact on development goals. The report makes this connection stark, with its conclusion that 22 out of 44 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goal targets will not be met because of this rapid deterioration in biodiversity.

“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” said Professor Eduardo Brondízio, co-chair from Brazil.

Mr. Brondizio is the Director for the Centre for the Analysis of Social-Ecological Landscapes at Indiana University in the United States.

“Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability.

“A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘tele-coupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions.”

The report has made its impact globally, with dozens of news reports and leaders commenting on the devastating numbers contained within.

James Russel, Associate Professor at Auckland University, said the report should put an end to claims there isn’t enough evidence about the status of biodiversity, and that one way to reverse the damage would be to “rein in the excesses of capitalism.

“It has been noted that the fundamental tenet of economics is unlimited growth which is at odds with the fundamental tenet of ecology that is finite resources,” he said.

I.P.B.E.S. is an independent intergovernmental body comprising more than 130-member Governments. 

Established by Governments in 2012, it provides policymakers with objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the contributions they make to people, as well as the tools and methods to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets.

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