UN Report Paints Stark Picture on Extinction Crisis

In May, the United Nations issued a grim assessment of the state of global biodiversity and ecosystem services, revealing that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. Many of these species will be gone within decades, as the extinction rate is accelerating, with dramatic adverse impacts on ecosystem health and human well-being.

The UN assessment previews a report to be published later this year by the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The full report will provide a comprehensive overview of the impacts of economic development on the natural world—demonstrating that biodiversity loss has profound implications not only for the environment, but also for human economies, food security, livelihoods, health, social fabric, and quality of life. 

According to the report, the five primary drivers of biodiversity loss, in order of impact, are (1) changes in land and sea use, (2) direct exploitation of organisms, (3) climate change, (4) pollution, and (5) invasive alien species. These factors have resulted in catastrophic declines in species and ecosystems globally. Since 1900, the abundance of native species in terrestrial habitats has decreased by at least 20 percent, and 25 percent of all terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species are threatened with extinction. (See http://bit.ly/2Jjc51D for a full summary of the report’s findings.)

The report emphasizes that to reverse these trends, transformative change is required—a fundamental reorganization of our economic, social, and technological systems, including shifts in society’s values and goals. Although the threats to species have never been greater, Sir Robert Watson, IPBES chair, stated, “It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” As individuals, we can all help make a difference through conscientious choices about our consumption, encouraging responsible corporate action, and demanding that our elected officials take action as well. 

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