Humans risk wiping out ONE MILLION species of plants and animals, UN report warns

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Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts say.

That’s the key finding of the United Nations‘ (UN) first comprehensive report on biodiversity – the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat.


Today’s report says species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. 

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.

The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity. They include habitat loss, overfishing, global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, air and water pollution and invasive species 

Polar bear on pack ice floating in the Arctic ocean on the North Pole. Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts say

Polar bear on pack ice floating in the Arctic ocean on the North Pole. Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts say

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, Sir Robert said.

‘We can actually feed all the coming billions of people without destroying another inch of nature,’ Professor Lovejoy added. 

Much of that can be done by eliminating food waste and being more efficient, he said.

Orangutan battles against a digger that was clearing its habitat because of consumer demand for palm oil

Orangutan battles against a digger that was clearing its habitat because of consumer demand for palm oil

One leading expert has said that humanity is ‘throttling’ the planet and, perhaps, its own future.

More than half a million species on land lack sufficient habitat for long-term survival and are likely to go extinct – some within decades – and the oceans are not any better off.

Researchers caution that the problem starts with people but that 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.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. 

Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts from the United Nations' have warned in the organisation's first comprehensive report on biodiversity (file photo)

Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts from the United Nations’ have warned in the organisation’s first comprehensive report on biodiversity (file photo)

The report’s summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST THREATS IN THE REPORT? 

The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:

– Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.

– Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

– Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world’s land mammals – not including bats – and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

– Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world’s waters.

– Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70% since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

‘Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity’s own future,’ said George Mason University biologist Professor 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,’ Professor Lovejoy said.

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 Dr 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,’ Dr Shaw said.

The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that’s becoming harder for humans to live in, said Sir Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.

‘We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric’ of humanity, Sir Robert told The Associated Press. 

He said the poor in less developed countries bear the greatest burden.

Researchers caution that the problem traces back to humanity but that it's not too late to fix it. Problems include the annihilation of natural landscapes, forests (Amazon pictured) and wetlands - leading to an 'unsustainable' loss of plants of animals which risk extinction

Researchers caution that the problem traces back to humanity but that it’s not too late to fix it. Problems include the annihilation of natural landscapes, forests (Amazon pictured) and wetlands – leading to an ‘unsustainable’ loss of plants of animals which risk extinction

Species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report warns. More than half a million species on land lack sufficient habitat for long-term survival and are likely to go extinct - some within decades - and the oceans are not any better off

Species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report warns. More than half a million species on land lack sufficient habitat for long-term survival and are likely to go extinct – some within decades – and the oceans are not any better off

RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE REPORT 

by Victoria Allen for the Daily Mail 

People in rich Western countries like Britain must cut their consumption of material goods to avoid the biggest mass extinction in human history.

That is the warning of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services environmental report. 

The UN-backed report, drawn up by 455 experts in 50 countries, says the natural world is ‘essential for human existence’. 

The landmark report concludes that the world’s human population, which has doubled in the past 50 years, cannot keep growing and we cannot continue consuming and wasting more each year.

Plastic waste has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species, while fertilisers entering the ocean have created ‘dead zones’ devoid of life taking up an area larger than the whole of the UK. 

Wildlife is declining at an ‘unprecedented’ rate worldwide, according to the study, which says many of the one million threatened species could vanish within decades.

The main cause is our use of land and sea for farming and fishing, which has seen tropical forests flattened to make way for cattle ranches and a third of land worldwide given over to crops and animals.

Pesticides and habitat loss from farming could put our future food supply in danger, as they are believed to be killing vital pollinating insects like bees which we rely on for three-quarters of the world’s crops from vegetables to coffee.

The report’s authors also point the finger at hunting and the third of marine fish stocks being overfished.

Currently, climate change is only the third biggest threat to the natural world, followed by pollution and invasive alien species like the grey squirrels which threaten to wipe out Britain’s native reds.

The three-year global assessment concludes that the threat to animals is a threat to humanity, as we rely on animals and plants for food, while trees and plants keep the air clean and provide wood for fuel. Some 70 per cent of cancer drugs come from natural sources.

Based on evidence from 15,000 scientific and government sources, it advises slowing down the rapid growth of the human population, while stating that a ‘good life’ does not have to mean ‘ever-increasing material consumption’.   

Fighting climate change and saving species are equally important, the report said, and working on both environmental problems should go hand-in-hand. 

Both problems exacerbate each other because a warmer world means fewer species, and a less biodiverse world means fewer trees and plants to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air, Professor Lovejoy said.

The world’s coral reefs are a perfect example of where climate change and species loss intersect. 

If the world warms another 0.9°F (0.5°C), which other reports say is likely, coral reefs will probably dwindle by 70 per cent to 90 per cent, the report said. 

At 1.8 °F (1°C), the report said, 99 per cent of the world’s coral will be in trouble.

‘Business as usual is a disaster,’ Sir Robert added.

At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. 

The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. 

More than 40 per cent of the world’s amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction.

The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species.

The IUCN calculated in March that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. 

That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants.

Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.

The report comes up with 1 million species in trouble by extrapolating the IUCN’s 25 per cent threatened rate to the rest of the world’s species and using a lower rate for the estimated 5.5 million species of insects, Sir Robert said.

Outside scientists, such as Professor Lovejoy and others, said that’s a reasonable assessment.

The report gives only a generic ‘within decades’ time frame for species loss because it is dependent on many variables, including taking the problem seriously, which can reduce the severity of the projections, Watson 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% rate of past extinctions, Sir Robert 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 (25m km) of new roads will be paved over nature between now and 2050, most in the developing world.

Tom Oliver, professor of applied ecology and leader for ecology and evolution, University of Reading, said of the report: ‘This highlights how we failed in the 2010 global target to halt biodiversity loss, and again in the revised 2020 target to do the same.

‘As our global impacts on the natural world continue to accelerate, we cannot afford to fail a third time. 

‘We need governments to develop strong policies to tackle the impacts of intensive agriculture, as well as better quantifying overseas impacts.’

WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE EARTH’S SPECIES?

 – Two species of vertebrate, animals with a backbone, have gone extinct every year, on average, for the past century.

– Currently around 41 per cent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction.

– There are an estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species on our planet and about 86 percent of land species and 91 percent of sea species remain undiscovered.

– Of the ones we do know, 1,204 mammal, 1,469 bird, 1,215 reptile, 2,100 amphibian, and 2,386 fish species are considered threatened.

– Also threatened are 1,414 insect, 2,187 mollusc, 732 crustacean, 237 coral, 12,505 plant, 33 mushroom, and six brown algae species.

– The global populations of 3,706 monitored vertebrate species – fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles – declined by nearly 60 per cent from 1970 to 2012.

– More than 25,000 species of 91,523 assessed for the 2017 ‘Red List’ update were classified as ‘threatened’.

– Of these, 5,583 were ‘critically’ endangered, 8,455 ‘endangered’, and 11,783 ‘vulnerable’. 



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