Kate on Conservation

The serious business of species extinction – Shamwari Diaries: Interval

african elephant in Shamwari

Stepping out from my Shamwari Series this week, I wanted to get serious for a moment. While it’s been a fascinating experience to look back 10 years, to the beginning of my conservation journey, it’s also proved a sobering reminder of how much has changed in the natural world, and how many more species have faced drastic declines in the last decade.

Last Sunday marked Endangered Species Day, an opportunity to consider the importance of protecting endangered species and to learn about the everyday actions we can take to help protect them.

This year’s Endangered Species Day was arguably the most important ever, as it comes just two weeks after a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.

What is the IPBES Global Assessment?

IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body established in 2012 and comprising more than 130 member Governments. It provides policymakers with objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems and the methods needed to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets.

The IPBES Global Assessment is the most comprehensive assessment of its kind. It showed that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and that the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.

Who made the report?

The Report was compiled over the past three years by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors.

For the first time ever at this scale, it also drew from indigenous and local knowledge, addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature.

What has the Global Assessment reported?

Since 1900, the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.

The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

Click to enlarge. IPBES’ four stages and multiple steps-to produce and promote an expert assessment.

Prof. Josef Settele, Co-Chair for Global Assessment of the IPBES, said: “Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed.”  

“This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, loss of biodiversity is shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.

The Report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius, with climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics.

It also shows the current global response to the species extinction crisis to be insufficient.

What is needed to restore and protect nature?

Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Click image to enlarge.

With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline.

It further explains that goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

Sir Robert Watson, former IPBES Chair, explains: “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said.

“Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. “

How can the Global Assessment help?

The Report presents a wide range of illustrative actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors; such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, finance and many others.

It highlights the importance of, among others, adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.

Also identified as a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth.

Other notable findings of the Report:

* Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

* More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.

* The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.

* Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.

* In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.

* Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.

* Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.

 * Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

For more information about IPBES and its assessments visit www.ipbes.net

Want more? Read my vision for UN World Wildlife Day 2019

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