Nature at its most perilous state ever, says IPBES Global Assessment Report

According to the report, the only way ahead is transformative changes to economic, political and social systems that must be be adopted by the countries of the world

May 12, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
The report says 1 million species may face the risk of extinction.

“What is at stake here is a liveable world,” says Robert Watson, who chaired the landmark assessment done by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) on the state of global biodiversity and ecosystems. What worries Watson is the finding which says that nature is at the most perilous point in human history and its decline is accelerating.

The way out, according to the report, is transformative changes to economic, political and social systems that have to be adopted by the world’s nations. Only then can the agreed global targets for nature conservation be met. Alexandre Antonelli, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, UK, said in a statement, “The report confirms that we can’t just preserve, we must reverse the trend by increasing biodiversity locally, regionally and globally”.

The Assessment Report

The massive report, was approved at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary that was held between April 29 and May4 in Paris. The IBPES which is based in Bonn, Germany, includes representatives from more than 100 countries, and more than 450 experts from around the world were involved in drafting the 1,800 page report which took 3 years.

The team preparing the assessment reviewed some 15,000 scientific papers and also researched other sources of data on trends in biodiversity and its ability to provide people everything from food and fiber to clean water and air—that is the ecosystem services.

The report noted that out of 8 million known species of animals and plants, almost 1 million are under threat of getting extinct and this includes more than 40% of amphibian species and almost a third of marine mammals.

Since 1900, native species have, on an average, become about 20% less abundant. The extent and conditions of natural ecosystems have declined by 47% since the earliest estimates and many of these are deteriorating at an alarming rate of 4% every decade.

The other metrics of the decline of nature that have been highlighted in the report are:

  • Human activities have severely altered 75% of the land.
  • Between 1980 and 2000, over one hundred million hectares of tropical forest have been destroyed.
  • Crops and livestock demand 75% of freshwater and more than a third of land.
  • Wetlands are being destroyed at a rate that is three times faster than the forests.
  • Pollution caused by plastic has increased ten-fold since 1980, and more alarmingly, 300 million to 400 million tons of industrial waste is being dumped every year.

Causes of Damage

The report, for the first time at a global scale has ranked the causes of damage. Changes in land use, principally agriculture, which have destroyed habitat, tops the list. In the second position comes hunting and other kinds of exploitation that have also caused major destruction, followed by climate change, pollution, invasive species that are spread by trade and other activities. Climate change, according to the authors, would overtake the other threats in the coming decades.

The report includes activities of indigenous and local communities. It says that, importantly, lands managed by indigenous people are declining less quickly than elsewhere.

This new report is the first global assessment of the state of nature since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005. Experts in ecosystem and biodiversity hope that the new report would be more impactful as the report involves governments of different countries and the report was asked for by these governments.

The report warns that it is only transformative measures that could start reversing the scenario. The transformative changes would involve a wide array of activities that include land restoration, preventing soil erosion, widely enforced limits on fishing, etc. In a nutshell, reversing the trend would require a shift to a more sustainable global economy.

The report also forsees a pushback in promoting such transformative changes, as those having vested interests in the status quo would oppose in initiating any such measures. To tackle this, IPBES plans to examine the ways to achieve such transformative changes in its next round of work.