UN Biodiversity Report: It’s worse than we thought

Human activities have been too costly for planet Earth leaving up to 1 million plant and animal species on the verge of extinction according to a UN report. We’ve wreaked havoc everywhere: Land, Seas, and sky. The report was put together by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The IPBES has 132 nations as its members and is equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While IPCC deals with climate, IBPES conducts extensive studies in biodiversity. The 1800-page report took three years to draft, drawing on systematic reviews of 15,000 scientific and government sources. The report is thorough and backed by the UN.

The ‘brief’, 40-page “summary for policymakers”, was published on May 6 at a meeting in Paris. This report is perhaps the most powerful indictment of how humans have treated their only home. It says that while the Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans through history, over the past 50 years, these scratches have become deep scars.

Some key takeaways from the report:

  • One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, thanks to us.
  • Our need for more food and energy are now more than ever amidst a rapidly degrading nature. These trends can be halted, the study says, but it will take “transformative change” in every aspect of how humans interact with nature.
  • Agricultural activities have had the largest impact on global ecosystems. 75% of the land and 66% of oceans have been significantly altered by us humans.
  • The average population size of native species in most habitats on land has fallen by at least 20 percent since 1900. More than 40 percent of amphibian species, almost 33 percent of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are now under threat.
  • 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. We are left only with 13% of wetlands of those present in 1700 still in existence in the year 2000. We’ve lost more than three-fourths of wetlands in a span of 300 years, thanks to aggressive urbanization. We’ve doubled urban areas since 1992. All this human activity is killing species in catastrophic numbers than ever before in history.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year, doubling since 1980.
  • Land degradation has rendered 23% of the global land unusable, $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, that sums up to 245,000 square kilometers that’s greater than the size of the United Kingdom.

The Earth is set on a path of destruction if the pace if we keep our activities unchecked. We are pacing into a point of no return beyond which the option of saving the planet may no longer exist. A transformative change needs to take place sooner than ever.

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