Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’
Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
Humans are driving one million species to extinction
Who hasn’t felt a shock-wave of disbelief followed by outrage, on learning that the recent IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services predicts that a million animal and plant species – that’s one out of eight – are likely to disappear within the next decades?
The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) is an intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity. According to its findings, a quarter of mammal species, 14% of birds, 40% of amphibians are doomed. Add fish, sharks, reptiles, snails, corals… and from 16% to 63% of species of plants. And the rate of extinction is accelerating. Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before.
How did this happen?
The causes are numerous, and they interact and converge.
(1) Changes in land and sea use. Forests give way to agricultural exploitations, palm oil plantations and livestock farms. Natural habitat is also displaced by mines, dams, roads and urban spread. Global agricultural production has tripled in the last half century. More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production. Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
(2) Over exploitation of living organisms, including hunting and trapping, illegal logging and over-fishing. A third of fish stocks were over-exploited in 2015 alone. Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface.
(3) Climate change. Example: fish flee from warming tropical waters, but cannot find a home near the poles.
(4) Pollution of many sorts, including pesticides, toxic industrial wastes and plastics.
(5) Invasive alien species which impact native species and ecosystem functions.
Since 1980, the average consumption of resources per person has grown by 15%, while human population has doubled.
The report also emphasizes the harm wrought by subsidies to fishing, intensive agriculture, cattle raising and extraction of minerals and fossil fuels.
“The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” says Sir Robert Wason, IPBES Chair.
Some case studies (more or less at random):
The North American Passenger Pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America and possibly the world, so numerous that a migrating flock would take hours to pass over a single spot, was hunted to extinction one hundred years ago.
The Guam Kingfisher is now extinct in the wild
The Barbary Lion, native to the Atlas mountain region of North Africa, considered one of the biggest lion species to have existed, became extinct in the wild in 1942.
The Western Black Rhinoceros was hunted to extinction because of a belief that its horn had medicinal value.
Metz Charter on Biodiversity – On May 6th, the G7 nations and several others, meeting in Metz, France, signed a Charter in which they acknowledged that “biodiversity, in additon to having intrinsic values, plays a vital role for maintaining life-sustaining systems, and therefore is of paramount importance to all life on Earth including human beings” and pledged to “accelerate and intensify our efforts to halt the biodiversity loss, to value, conserve, restore and wisely use biodiversity, thereby maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) runs field projects for habitat and species conservation around the world. It produces a Red List of Threatened Species. If you want some interesting conservation stories, look here. The IUCN will hold its next World Conservation Congress in Marseilles, France, on June 11-19, 2020.