A UN global assessment report was released on Monday, and its findings are ominous, bleak and damning. In short, human society is at fatal risk of collapse because of damage to the Earth’s life support systems by humans. The report was assembled by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and involved the work of more than 450 scientists and diplomats over a three year period.
Its stinging criticism of the treatment of the natural world is unusual for a UN report, outlining just how shocking its findings are. Using about 15,000 academic studies and frontline reports from indigenous communities, the IPBES report warns of the “unprecedented” decline of the Earth’s wildlife. It also labelled efforts to protect nature “insufficient”, with its authors hoping the report can be used as inspiration to herald “transformative changes”.
In spite of the report’s hopes, the content is damning. Sir Robert Watson, chair of IPBES, struck an ominous tone in its introduction: “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.”
Beyond those early lines, it didn’t get much better. About a million flora and fauna species are threatened with extinction, many facing such a fate within decades. On land, 83% of wetland habitats have been lost since 1700, a rate of loss three times faster than that of forests over the same period. 75% of the planet’s terrestrial environment has been “severely altered” by human impact, compared to 66% of marine environments.
47% of the Earth’s natural ecosystems have been lost. The biomass of wild mammals is down 82%, while the populations of native species on land has fallen by an average of 20% since 1990. Out of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species on Earth, 1 million are at severe risk of extinction.
The report is clear: humanity is on a path to destroying our planet. Plundering the earth for resources, rapacious agricultural expansion and pollution are killing the living planet. 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are extracted from the Earth each year, a 100% increase on 1980. Since 1970 there has been a 300% in food crop production, with 55% of the Ocean’s area covered by industrial fishing. In 2005 33% of the wild fish population was being harvested at unsustainable levels.
Back on land the rate of ecocide for agricultural purposes has been relentless. 33% of the world’s land surface is devoted to crops or livestock. In the 20 years between 1980 and 2000 there was 100 million hectares of agricultural expansion, half of the land taken was from intact rainforests, mostly in South America. This destructive increase has helped see a 100% increase in global greenhouse gas emissions since 1980. We’re not only hurting the living planet, we’re well on our way to killing it.
You can read the report here.