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Daily News Blog

03
Apr

International Science Panel Finds Biodiversity Declines Extremely Dangerous Worldwide

(Beyond Pesticides, April 3, 2018) Humans’ unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, worldwide, has reached critical proportions, threatening the ability of an estimated 3.2 billion people to have food and water security, according to a new international study. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report (IPBES) unearths the crisis faced by two-fifths of the world’s population due to the worsening of land degradation, declining species biodiversity, and the intensification of climate change. While the report presents a bleak picture of how humans have substantially degraded the natural resources essential to survival, it also offers some hope by identifying the changes could be adopted by governments with a political will. Publication of the IPBES comes with a stern warning from the report’s Chair, Robert Watson, PhD, who cautions that “the time for action was yesterday or the day before.”

The extensively peer-reviewed report, conducted by 100 experts from 45 countries, represents a compilation of four regional assessments in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Europe and Central Asia. It is intended to provide policy makers with “the best available evidence” to make important decisions about corrective actions they can take to avoid, reduce, and even reverse land degradation and its impacts. In addition to detailing the root causes of biodiversity losses and ecosystem damages, it also examines the social, cultural, political, and economic influences that can affect long-lasting change. Central to the report is a strong and often repeated message that the window of opportunity for reversing land degradation and its impacts is closing. Dr. Watson warns that, “We must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead.”

Heightened pesticide use has also adversely affected species diversity of both target and non-target species. It has also adversely impacted food and water security. The organophosphate insecticides chlorpyrifosmalathion, and diazinon are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species and adversely modify their critical habitats, according to a  December 2017 Biological Opinion of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The opinion followed an ecological assessment that relied upon multiple lines of evidence to determine effects to species and their designated habitats.

Excessive synthetic fertilizer applications in chemical-intensive agriculture is the leading cause of the eutrophication of water bodies. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of California Davis published a study in Science Advances with the finding that regulators in the state drastically underestimate chemical-intensive agriculture’s contribution to nitrogen oxide (NOx) caused air pollution, acid rain, and respiratory illness in the state. While NOx  pollution is usually associated with energy production and vehicle emissions, fertilizer use on crop fields is contributing to significant air pollution problems. Advocates have said that the study is an urgent call for farmers to eliminate dependency on soluble, synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizers and adopt the use of insoluble soil amendments that support soil biology that provide plants with nutrients. The well-documented “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico provides a case in point, where the large influx of nitrogen run-off from agriculture has stimulated the production of harmful algae and created a low oxygen environment bereft of marine life. According to IPBES report projections, pesticide and fertilizer use will double by 2050, based on current use patterns and the spiraling demands for food, biofuels, and more meat-based diets. Other adverse impacts of agricultural production systems on the natural environment include decreases soil fertility, acidification, salinization and waterlogging, all of which impinge upon food production yields.

Concrete solutions offered in the report include: halting agriculture expansion into native habitats, improving soil health, conservation agriculture, shifts toward integrated crop, livestock, and forestry agriculture, more plant-based foods, and food waste reduction.

Land degradation is defined in the IPBES as “the many human-caused processes that drive the decline or loss in biodiversity, ecosystem functions or ecosystem services in any terrestrial and associated aquatic ecosystems.” Chief among the cultural drivers of land degradation is the high consumption lifestyles of people living in advanced industrialized countries, the growing consumption in emerging economies, and increasing population growth. All of these behaviors cause land degradation through natural resource and mineral extraction and by fueling agricultural and urban sprawl. Such activities have left less than 25% of the Earth’s surface free from human intervention, mostly in deserts, tundra, mountains, and polar-regions.

The IPBES report tells the somber story of how natural resource exploitation is rapidly accelerating around the world and how and why the rate of species decline varies considerably among regions. The Americas, for example, is home to an estimated 40% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Yet the region, with only 13% of the world’s population, exploits natural resources at twice the global average. And, if the world continues its current fast pace of exploitation without any major course corrections, IPBES estimates that global biodiversity could decline by another 10% by 2050.

Biodiversity has been most strongly affected by agriculture, followed by forestry, infrastructure development, urban encroachment and climate change. The resultant reduction and elimination in the suitability of habitats is the major cause of biodiversity losses. IPBES identified a nearly 40 percent decline in the average population size of wild terrestrial vertebrate species and an 81 percent decline in freshwater vertebrate species between 1970 and 2012. UN Administrator of the Development Program, Achim Steiner, argues that “Biodiversity and the ecosystem services its supports are not only the foundation for life on Earth, but critical to the livelihoods and well-being of people everywhere.”

Agricultural production contributes 10-20 percent of all human-induced global greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation contributes about 10 percent. Land degradation combined with climate change is expected to reduce crop yields by an average of 10 percent, but that figure could reach up to 50 percent by 2050. The release of previously stored carbon in soils represents another significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. An estimated 4.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide was released into the environment between 2000 and 2009. If that trend continues in the Americas, climate change will become the primary cause of biodiversity loss.

Authors of the IPBES report have dubbed its findings “a wake-up call for all of us.” It will also undoubtedly serve that function for the 198 parties to the Convention on Biodiversity who will be attending the upcoming meeting in Egypt in November of this year. Aided by conclusions drawn from the report, agreements will be made on targets for improving biodiversity and strengthening compliance with the treaty. While the U.S. is a party to the Convention, it is not a signatory, which means that it is not legally bound by treaty provisions. You can do your part to change that by contacting your U.S. House Representative and Senators and urging them to call for a vote in Congress to support the U.S. becoming a signatory to the Convention. This is an important first step for the U.S. to join hands with the global community and to work jointly to develop and implement solutions to the combat the biodiversity crisis.

Agricultural Sources:  IPBES media release; The Guardian; EcoWatch

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