Top scientists tell the world how much damage the humans have caused the planet with the latest scientific report on biodiversity.
The United Nations plans to issue its first comprehensive scientific report on biodiversity, looking hard at the threat of extinction for Earth's plant and animal species and what it means for humanity. Report Chairman Robert Watson said last month that there are five major threats to biodiversity: the conversion of forests and grasslands into farms, overfishing of the oceans, climate change and pollution and the spread of invasive species.
Watson said governments are beginning to take the issue seriously because if they cannot solve the intertwined threats of extinction and climate change, the world may end up hungrier and thirstier. For the past week, scientists from around the globe have met in Paris to come up with an authoritative statement. The summary from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services must be unanimously approved by more than 100 nations.
When the meeting started, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay told negotiators that the report "will force us to face this dramatic degradation of biodiversity and to share this evidence with society as a whole." UN report states that nature is in the worst shape currently in the entire course human history. Around a million species of plants and animals are at risk of going extinct.
The report released Monday says species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. More than half a million species on land lack sufficient habitat for long-term survival and are likely to go extinct, maybe within decades. The oceans are not any better off. Researchers say the problem traces back to humanity, but it's not too late to fix it. Conservation scientists from around the world convened in Paris to issue the report, which exceeded 1,000 pages.
"Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity's own future," said George Mason University biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity for his research. He was not part of the report. "The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that," Lovejoy said.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. The report's summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations. Some nations hit harder by the losses, like small island countries, wanted more in the report.
Others, such as the United States, were cautious in the language they sought, but they agreed "we're in trouble," said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, who observed the final negotiations. "This is the strongest call we've seen for reversing the trends on the loss of nature," Shaw said.
"We're in the middle of the sixth great extinction crisis, but it's happening in slow motion," said Conservation International and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Lee Hannah, who was not part of the report. The report was careful not to refer to a sixth mass extinction because its numbers do not come close to the 75 per cent rate of past extinctions, Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist, who headed the report said.
The report goes beyond species. Of the 18 measured ways nature helps humans, the report said 14 are declining, with food and energy production noticeable exceptions. The report found downward trends in nature's ability to provide clean air and water, good soil and other essentials.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats and it's happening worldwide, Watson said. The report projects 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers) of new roads will be paved over nature between now and 2050, most in the developing world. Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people.
Individuals can help with simple changes to the way they eat and use energy, said the co-chairman of the report, ecological scientist Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. That doesn't mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but balancing meat, vegetables and fruit, and walking and biking more, Watson said. "We can actually feed all the coming billions of people without destroying another inch of nature," Lovejoy said. Much of that can be done by eliminating food waste and being more efficient, he said.