DATE: May 6, 2019
SNIP: Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.
The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.
Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”
At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.
As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.
Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará State, Brazil. In most major land habitats, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century.
The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems. But it goes further by detailing how closely human well-being is intertwined with the fate of other species.
The authors note that the devastation of nature has become so severe that piecemeal efforts to protect individual species or to set up wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient. Instead, they call for “transformative changes” that include curbing wasteful consumption, slimming down agriculture’s environmental footprint and cracking down on illegal logging and fishing.
“Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before,” the report concludes, estimating that “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.”
More than 500,000 land species, the report said, do not have enough natural habitat left to ensure their long-term survival.
All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people, the report found, and 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.