Loss of Biodiversity Puts Current and Future Generations at Risk

Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora,
Mexico. Conservation efforts over the past decade have reduced the
extinction risks for mammals and birds in 109 countries, however,
there remains a mass loss of biodiversity around the world. Credit:
Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 7 2019 (IPS)

An alarming report about the massive loss of biodiversity around
the world warns that future generations will be at risk if urgent
action isn’t taken to protect the more than one million species
of plants and animals threatened with extinction.

Such extinction could happen “within decades” and could
affect 40 percent of amphibian species, more than a third of marine
mammals and nearly 33 percent of reef-forming corals, said the
Intergovernmental Science-Policy
Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
.

“Biodiversity is important for human well-being, and we humans
are destroying it,” Sir Robert Watson, the outgoing chair of the
IPBES, said as the report was launched Monday, May
7.

The body, formed in 2012 and comprising more than 130 government
members, stated in its comprehensive review that nature is
“declining globally at rates unprecedented in human
history”.

The IPBES Global Assessment Report added that the rate of
species extinction is also “accelerating”, and that this
entails serious effects for the world’s human population as well,
with an increasing impact on food, water and energy security, and
on peace and stability.

“It’s a security issue in so far as the loss of natural
resources, especially in poor, developing countries, can lead to
conflict,” Watson said.

In a media briefing at the end of a six-day plenary—hosted by
the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
in
Paris—scientists called for bold measures at all levels of
society to save the planet’s biodiversity, putting the issue at
the same level of urgency as climate change.

“Unless we act now, we will undermine human well-being for
current and future generations,” Watson said. “It’s a moral
issue: we should not destroy nature. And it’s an ethical issue
because the loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest of people,
further exacerbating an already inequitable world.”

While climate change up to now has not been a dominant factor in
biodiversity loss, it is expected to equal or surpass the issues of
overfishing, pollution of sea and land (with toxic waste, plastics
and heavy metals), the spread of invasive species decimating native
ones, and the destruction of natural forests, the IPBES said.

Scientists said the “picture is less clear” for insect
species, but the available evidence points to about 10 percent
being threatened.

IPBES experts further state that at least 680 “vertebrate
species” (or species with backbone) have been driven to
extinction since the 16th century, and more than nine percent 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. This has happened at a faster rate than in previous
eras.

The 455 experts involved in the report analysed upwards of
15,000 scientific papers among their fields of research, said IPBES
Executive Secretary Anne Larigauderie. They ranked the five
“direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative
global impacts” on the world’s estimated eight million
species.

These five drivers are: changes in land and sea use; direct
exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive
alien species, according to the report.

Ocean pollution, with toxic waste and tons of plastic
devastating marine life, is now common knowledge, but perhaps
people are less aware that the use of fertilisers has created some
400 coastal ecosystem “dead zones”, affecting 245,000 square
kilometres.

Despite the disturbing statistics, Larigauderie said the IPBES
still wished to send a message of hope.

“We don’t want that people feel discouraged, that there’s
nothing that can be done, that we’ve lost the battle, because
we’ve not,” she said.

A CEIBA Biological Centre (CEIBA) study investigated the impact
of global warming on tropical ectotherms, namely, butterflies and
lizards, whose body temperatures are determined by the environment.
Amazonian ectotherms may be adjusting their behaviour to cope with
the heat, but at the expense of the normal activities required for
survival and breeding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Conservation efforts over the past decade have reduced the
extinction risks for mammals and birds in 109 countries, and more
than a hundred highly threatened birds, mammals and reptiles are
“estimated to have benefitted from the eradication of invasive
mammals on islands”, according to IPBES experts.

They emphasised that there was still time to give nature a
chance to recover if the world takes transformative action for
global sustainability, including the use of renewables, ecological
farming methods and reducing run-off pollution into oceans.

“What we offer is scientific evidence never put together
before,” said Eduardo S. Brondizio, one of the three co-chairs of
the report and professor of anthropology at Indiana University.

“This is evidence that can be taken seriously, and people can
be awakened to take action,” Brondizio told IPS. “This report
is important for change.”

During the briefing at UNESCO, Brondizio had clear words for
society at large and for the financial sectors and policy
makers.

“We need to change our narratives,” he said. “Both our
individual narratives that associate wasteful consumption with
quality of life and with status, and the narratives of the economic
systems that still consider that environmental degradation and
social inequality are inevitable outcomes of economic
growth.”

“Economic growth is a means and not an end,” he added. “We
need to look for the quality of life of the planet.”

He said that “positive incentives” were required to “move
away from harmful subsidies” that were contributing to
unsustainable business models.

The report says there has been a 15 percent increase in global
per capita consumption of materials since 1980 and a 300 percent
increase in food crop production since 1970, reducing the habitat
of some species and causing pollution through fertilisers.

Elephants from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A recent report
by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity
and Ecosystem Services states more than one million species of
plants and animals threatened with extinction. Credit: Malini
Shankar/IPS

Meanwhile, 85 percent of wetlands present in 1700 had been lost
by 2000, and 3.5 percent of domesticated breed of birds were
extinct by 2016.

Among the “cross-sectoral solutions” that the report
proposes, Brondizio highlighted complementary and inter-dependent
approaches to food production and conservation, sustainable
fisheries, land-based climate-change mitigation and
“nature-based” initiatives in cities – which is crucial for
overall sustainability.

He pointed out that over the past decade, the “largest portion
of urban growth has been in the urban South”, with the largest
portion being among the poor who live in cities with stressed
environmental issues.

If adequate action isn’t taken to halt the loss of
biodiversity in cities, to deal with climate change and to improve
quality of life for urban residents, the negative impact will be
globally felt, he said.

Brondizio equally called for the need to recognise the
knowledge, innovations and practices, institutions and values of
indigenous peoples and local communities.

“They are equal partners in this journey, and we need their
inclusion and participation in environmental governance,” he
said.

Also addressing the report, UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey
Azoulay stressed the importance of education in ensuring
sustainability and of sharing knowledge to heighten
awareness. 

“Following the adoption of this historic report, no one will
be able to claim that they did not know. We can no longer continue
to destroy the diversity of life. This is our responsibility
towards future generations,” she said.

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Loss of Biodiversity Puts Current and Future Generations at
Risk
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Loss of Biodiversity Puts Current and Future Generations at Risk