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Daily News Blog

10
May

UN Brings Together 145 Experts, 50 Countries, 15,000 Studies, Documents Accelerating Biodiversity Loss Threatening All Life; Ecosystem Protections Urgently Needed

(Beyond Pesticides, May 10, 2019) The Earth, its natural systems, and as many as a million species are at enormous risk from human activity, says a new assessment from the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity project — the IPBES Global Assessment Summary for Policymakers. The net finding might be expressed as: humans are not immune from the sequelae of biodiversity loss; the ecosystem functions on which human lives depend are in increasingly dire straits.

The 1,500-page report, convened by IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), is the most comprehensive look to date at the biodiversity crisis and its implications for human civilization. A summary of the report’s findings, approved by representatives from the U.S. and other member countries, was released in Paris on May 6; the complete report is expected later in 2019. It is of note and commendable that the summary, though lengthy, is digestible for a lay audience.

IPBES is an intergovernmental body of 132 member states, established in 2012, that assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services such diversity provides to societies. The group also provides reporting to policymakers on those assessments, and on the dynamics (i.e., causes and impacts) between human activity and the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services. This 2019 report emerges from three years of work by 145 experts from 50 countries, and is informed by 15,000 scientific studies and other resources, including, pioneeringly, indigenous and local knowledge.

Project co-chair Eduardo Brondizio, Ph.D. of Indiana University remarked at a press conference on the release, “We have reconfigured dramatically life on the planet.” Thomas Lovejoy, Ph.D., George Mason University Professor of Biology and Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation — who is sometimes called the godfather of biodiversity for his research efforts — commented, “Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity’s own future. . . . The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that.”

Sir Robert Watson, Ph.D., a British, and former NASA scientist who headed the report, noted that “the findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that’s becoming harder for humans to live in. ‘We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric’ of humanity, Watson said, adding, ‘Business as usual is a disaster.’”

Frontline nations, such as small islands, who are typically hit first and hardest by the losses, are reported to have wanted a more fulsome report, while the U.S. and other developed countries were, as one might expect, more cautious. That said, Rebecca Shaw, Ph.D., who observed the final negotiations as chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, noted that all members could agree that “we’re in trouble.” She added, “This is the strongest call we’ve seen for reversing the trends on the loss of nature.”

The report’s key messages are:

  1. nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide
  2. direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years
  3. goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors
  4. nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change

Among the summary’s alarming conclusions are that, across most of the globe’s major habitats, the plenitude of plants and animals has dropped by 20% or more during the past century. Human activities — agriculture; land conversion (logging, deforestation); extractive operations (mining, fossil fuel “harvesting”); overfishing; poaching; failure to control rampant native species; and pollution of all sorts — are changing the face and dynamics of the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.” PBS reports, from the UN assessment, “‘Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past,’ and more than half a million species on land ‘have insufficient habitat for long-term survival’ and are likely to go extinct . . . unless their habitats are restored [soon]. The oceans are not any better off.”

IPBES asserts that this decline in biodiversity threatens society’s ability to meet people’s basic needs, and that current patterns of production and consumption are unsustainable. Pesticides are, of course, one of the contributors to loss of biodiversity. The report notes: “Harmful economic incentives and policies associated with unsustainable practices of fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture (including fertilizer and pesticide use)[italic by Beyond Pesticides], livestock, forestry, mining and energy (including fossil fuels and biofuels) are often associated with land/sea-use change and overexploitation of natural resources, as well as inefficient production and waste management.” Beyond Pesticides underscores one of the “changes in production of . . . food” the report endorses — the transition away from pesticide-laden agricultural practices and toward sustainable agriculture — which Beyond Pesticides believes must be organic.

Exacerbating this biodiversity loss is, unsurprisingly, the climate emergency, which is heating the planet through human activities that dump greenhouse gases (GHGs), notably carbon dioxide and methane, into our proportionally paper-thin atmosphere. The summary elaborates on key message #2: “The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history. The direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact have been (starting with those with most impact): changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change [italic by Beyond Pesticides]; pollution; and invasion of alien species.“

The GHG load in the atmosphere, when combined with the other levers of human damage to the environment, is helping drive a rapidly increasing number of species toward extinction — and sooner, rather than later. “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.” The report further projects that, absent major conservation efforts across the planet, biodiversity loss — particularly in the tropics — will accelerate at least through 2050.

The IPBES report manages to balance its dire message with some buoyancy. It pulls no punches about the gravity of the situation, but does point to possibility for arresting and redirecting the current entropy: “The negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystem functions are projected to continue or worsen in many future scenarios in response to indirect drivers such as rapid human population growth, unsustainable production and consumption[,] and associated technological development. In contrast, scenarios and pathways that explore the effects of a low-to-moderate population growth, and transformative changes in production and consumption of energy, food, feed, fibre and water, sustainable use, equitable sharing of the benefits arising from use and nature-friendly climate adaptation and mitigation, will better support the achievement of future societal and environmental objectives.”

The report directs policymakers toward pathways that can generate “the transformative change needed to reverse these alarming trends.” Such paths include more and more-resolute international cooperation; reversal of perverse — i.e., crisis-exacerbating — incentive structures; use of more-holistic decision making; and strengthened implementation of environmental laws and policies. It also sets out a number of nature-based solutions that address some of the identified challenges:
• reducing deforestation, restoring forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems, and agricultural practices that build soil organic matter could together contribute more than a third of the total efforts needed by 2030 to keep global warming below 2 degrees

  • better use of biodiversity in agriculture (such as pollinators, natural enemies of pests and soil biodiversity) could increase yields while reducing the use of harmful chemicals
  • protecting coral reefs and mangroves protects coastal areas from extreme weather events

The released (summary) report itself provides a comprehensive conclusion: “Societal goals — including those for food, water, energy, health and the achievement of human well-being for all, mitigating and adapting to climate change and conserving and sustainably using nature — can be achieved in sustainable pathways through the rapid and improved deployment of existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change. Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such fundamental, structural change is called for. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good. If obstacles are overcome, commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level, new frameworks for private sector investment and innovation, inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements, multi-sectoral planning and strategic policy mixes can help to transform the public and private sectors to achieve sustainability at the local, national and global levels.”

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.ipbes.net/sites/default/files/downloads/spm_unedited_advance_for_posting_htn.pdf

and https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/climate/biodiversity-extinction-united-nations.html?emc=edit_na_20190506&nl=breaking-news&nlid=30934893ing-news&ref=headline

 

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