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BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEMS: A LANDMARK NEW REPORT

The report of the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), published on 6 May 2019, suggests that nature, biodiversity and ecosystems are taking a hammering. This comes about from human impacts on the natural world, the growing human population, and the way in which we live, extracting, overexploiting and polluting. A million species are at risk of extinction. The Chair of the IPBES, Robert Watson has said –

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The report’s impact and authority derives in part from its widely spread authorship and national participation. It was prepared by 145 lead authors and 310 contributing authors from 50 countries over 3 years, reviewed 15,000 studies and government reports, and 132 countries’ representatives met in Paris to prepare its release. It can be expected that its findings will meet with resistance and opposition where they question models for economic growth, but it cannot be lightly dismissed.

Some of the report’s numerous statistical findings include –

75% of land has been significantly altered by human action

66% of oceans are experiencing cumulative impacts of human action.

85% of wetlands by area have been lost.

32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015. Huge forest losses are attributable to the spread of cattle ranching (South America) and palm oil production (Asia).

Crop and livestock production involves 33% of the Earth’s land surface and 75% of its freshwater resources.

40% of amphibian species, 33% of reef forming corals, many shark species, more than a half of marine mammals are at risk.

Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.

Average abundance of native plants, animals and insects is down by 20% since 1990.

Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, and 300-400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and industrial waste are discharged to the world’s waters annually.

And so on. Undoubtedly the report will have a major impact on the preparations for negotiations on revisions to the Convention on Biological Diversity due in China in 2020.

The fine main drivers for these huge changes are identified as –

1. Changes in land and sea use.

2. Direct exploitation of organisms (such as overfishing).

3. Climate change.

4. Pollution.

5. Invasive alien species.

Five main interventions or levers which the report suggests could bring about transformative change are –

1. Incentives and capacity building.

2. Cross-sectoral cooperation.

3. Pre-emptive action.

4. Decision-making in the context of resilience and uncertainty.

5. Environmental law and implementation.

The report lays the foundations for scientific re-appraisal of human impacts on nature in many fundamental aspects. It will have a ripple effect as it gets into the policy mainstream. It now needs to initiate work on more detailed and practical steps in which societies and economies can organise themselves differently, and better- as is being done with the parallel challenge of climate change. It is really important to have the scientific diagnosis of these problems, but it must also be a call to arms for scientists, governments, societies and the next generations to help demonstrate and provide the cures to the ills.

IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

https://www.ipbes.net