Biodiversity – the essential variety of life forms on Earth – continues to dangerously decline
by Robert Watson
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
24 Mar. 2018
Human destruction of nature is rapidly eroding the world’s capacity to provide food, water and security to billions of people, according to the most comprehensive biodiversity study in more than a decade.
Biodiversity – the essential variety of life forms on Earth – continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s well-being.
This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere, according to four landmark science reports released today, written by more than 550 leading experts, from over 100 countries.
The result of three years of work, the four regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services cover the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, as well as Europe and Central Asia – the entire planet except the poles and the open oceans. The assessment reports were approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in Medellín, Colombia, at the 6th session of its Plenary. IPBES has 129 State Members.
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives,” said the Chair of IPBES, Robert Watson, “Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life.
The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: 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. Fortunately, the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets.”
In every region, biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures – habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change.
“One of the most important findings across the four IPBES regional assessments is that failure to prioritize policies and actions to stop and reverse biodiversity loss, and the continued degradation of nature’s contributions to people, seriously jeopardises the chances of any region, and almost every country, meeting their global development targets,” said Dr. Anne Larigauderie, the Executive Secretary of IPBES.
“Achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the Paris Agreement on climate change, all depend on the health and vitality of our natural environment in all its diversity and complexity. Acting to protect and promote biodiversity is at least as important to achieving these commitments and to human wellbeing as is the fight against global climate change”.
“Richer, more diverse ecosystems are better able to cope with disturbances – such as extreme events and the emergence of diseases. They are our ‘insurance policy’ against unforeseen disasters and, used sustainably, they also offer many of the best solutions to our most pressing challenges.”
The assessment of the Americas concludes that continued biodiversity loss may well undermine the achievement of a number of the SDGs as well as some of the international climate-related goals, targets and aspirations.
The Americas – which has about 40% of the world’s remaining biodiversity – the regional population is gobbling up resources at twice the rate of the global average. Despite having 13% of the people on the planet, it is using a quarter of the resources, said Jake Rice, a co-chair of the Americas assessment.
Since the start of colonisation by Europeans 500 years ago, he said 30% of biodiversity has been lost in the region. This will rise to 40% in the next 10 years unless policies and behaviours are transformed.
“It will take fundamental change in how we live as individuals, communities and corporations,” he said. “We keep making choices to borrow from the future to live well today. We need a different way of thinking about economics with a higher accountability of the costs in the future to the benefits we take today,” Rice said.
“It’s because of us,” added Mark Rounsevell, co-chair of the European assessment. “We are responsible for all of the declines of biodiversity. We need to decouple economic growth from degradation of nature. We need to measure wealth beyond economic indicators. GDP only goes so far.”
The authors all stressed the close connection between climate change and biodiversity loss, which are adversely affecting each other. By 2050, they believe climate change could replace land-conversion as the main driver of extinction.
In many regions, the report says current biodiversity trends are jeopardising UN global development goals to provide food, water and housing. They also weaken natural defences against extreme weather events, which will become more common due to climate change.
All the plausible future scenarios explored in the Africa assessment highlight that the drivers of biodiversity loss will increase, with associated negative impacts on nature’s contributions to people and human well-being. Achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the SDGs and the Aichi Targets is unlikely in three out of five scenarios explored.
The experts of the Asia-Pacific assessment point to the value of ecosystem based approaches and identify, among others, lack of solid waste management, as well as air, water and land pollution as factors undermining gains in a number of the Aichi Targets and SDGs for many countries (e.g. extinction of plant and animal species due to deforestation, rising temperature and water pollution).
“The Sustainable Development Goals aim to “leave no one behind”. If we don’t protect and value biodiversity, we will never achieve this goal. When we erode biodiversity, we impact food, water, forests and livelihoods. But to tackle any challenge head on, we need to get the science right and this is why UN Environment is proud to support this series of assessments. Investing in the science of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, means investing in people and the future we want.” - Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment
“Biodiversity is the living fabric of our planet - the source of our present and our future. It is essential to helping us all adapt to the changes we face over the coming years. These four regional reports are critical to understanding the role of human activities in biodiversity loss and its conservation, and our capacity to collectively implementing solutions to address the challenges ahead.” - Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
“The regional assessments demonstrate once again that biodiversity is among the earth’s most important resources. Biodiversity is also key to food security and nutrition. The maintenance of biological diversity is important for food production and for the conservation of the ecological foundations on which rural livelihoods depend. Biodiversity is under serious threat in many regions of the world and it is time for policy-makers to take action at national, regional and global levels.” - José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
“Tools like these four regional assessments provide scientific evidence for better decision making and a path we can take forward to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and harness nature’s power for our collective sustainable future. The world has lost over 130 million hectares of rainforests since 1990 and we lose dozens of species every day, pushing the Earth’s ecological system to its limit. Biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports are not only the foundation for our life on Earth, but critical to the livelihoods and well-being of people everywhere.” - Achim Steiner, Administrator of UNDP
“The time for action was yesterday or the day before,” says Robert Watson. “We must act now to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature or risk not only the future but the lives we currently lead”.
* Access the IPBES landmark science reports via the link below.
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Extreme weather is claiming lives and destroying livelihoods
by World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
22 Mar. 2018
The high impact of extreme weather on economic development, food security, health and migration is highlighted in the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2017.
Compiled by the World Meteorological Organization with input from national meteorological services and United Nations partners, the report provides detailed information to support the international agenda on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.
The Statement, now in its 25th year, was published for World Meteorological Day on 23 March. It confirmed that 2017 was one of the three warmest years on record and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. It also examined other long-term indicators of climate change such as increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level rise, shrinking sea ice, ocean heat and ocean acidification.
Global mean temperatures in 2017 were about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. The five-year average 2013–2017 global temperature is the highest five-year average on record. The world’s nine warmest years have all occurred since 2005, and the five warmest since 2010.
The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off – with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods. The Arctic experienced unusually high temperatures, whilst densely populated areas in the northern hemisphere were gripped by bitter cold and damaging winter storms. Australia and Argentina suffered extreme heatwaves, whilst drought continued in Kenya and Somalia, and the South African city of Cape Town struggled with acute water shortages,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“Since the inaugural Statement on the State of the Global Climate, in 1993, scientific understanding of our complex climate system has progressed rapidly. This includes our ability to document the occurrence of extreme weather and climate events, the degree to which they can be attributed to human influences, and the correlation of climate change with epidemics and vector-borne diseases,” said Mr Taalas.
“In the past quarter of a century, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 360 parts per million to more than 400 ppm. They will remain above that level for generations to come, committing our planet to a warmer future, with more weather, climate and water extremes,” said Mr Taalas.
Direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 over the past 800 000 years showed natural variations between 180 and 280 ppm. “This demonstrates that today’s CO2 concentration of 400 ppm exceeds the natural variability seen over hundreds of thousands of years, “ said the Statement.
2017 was a particularly severe year for disasters with high economic impacts. Munich Re assessed total disaster losses from weather and climate-related events in 2017 at US$ 320 billion, the largest annual total on record.
Fuelled by warm sea surface temperatures, the North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States and eradicated decades of developments gains in small islands in the Caribbean such as Dominica.
The National Centers for Environmental Information estimated total U.S. losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria at US$ 265 billion. The World Bank estimates Dominica’s total damages and losses from the hurricane at US$ 1.3 billion or 224% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Climate impacts hit vulnerable nations especially hard, as evidenced in a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, which warned that a 1 °C increase in temperature would cut significantly economic growth rates in many low-income countries.
The overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30% of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver potentially deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year, according to information from the World Health Organization quoted in the Statement. It also included a section on the relationship between climate and the Zika epidemic in the Americas in 2014–2016.
In 2016, weather-related disasters displaced 23.5 million people. Consistent with previous years, the majority of these internal displacements were associated with floods or storms and occurred in the Asia-Pacific region.
Massive internal displacement in the context of drought and food insecurity continues across Somalia. From November 2016 to December 2017, 892,000 drought-related displacements were recorded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In the Horn of Africa, the failure of the 2016 rainy season was followed by a harsh January–February 2017 dry season, and a poor March-to-May rainy season. In Somalia, as of June 2017, more than half of the cropland was affected by drought, and herds had reduced by 40–60% since December 2016 due to increased mortality and distress sales, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme.
Floods affected the agricultural sector, especially in Asian countries. Heavy rains in May 2017 triggered severe flooding and landslides in south-western areas of Sri Lanka. The negative impact of floods on crop production further aggravated the food security conditions in the country already stricken by drought, according to FAO and WFP.
Global sea surface temperatures in 2017 ranked as the third warmest on record. Ocean heat content, a measure of the heat in the oceans through their upper layers down to 2,000 meters, reached new record highs in 2017.
The Statement said that the magnitude of almost all of individual components of sea level rise has increased in recent years, in particular melting of the polar ice sheets, mostly in Greenland and to a lesser extent Antarctica.
For the second successive year, above-average sea surface temperatures off the east coast of Australia resulted in significant coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef.
The Climate Statement contains a special section on ocean acidification from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. Over the past 10 years, various studies have confirmed that ocean acidification is directly influencing the health or coral reefs, the success, quality and taste of aquaculture raised fish and seafood, and the survival and calcification of several key organisms. These alterations have cascading effects within the food web, which are expected to result in increasing impacts on coastal economies.
Sea ice extent was well below the 1981–2010 average throughout 2017 in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The winter maximum of Arctic sea ice was the lowest winter maximum in the satellite record. The summer minimum was the 8th lowest on record, but a slow freeze-up saw sea ice extent once again near record lows for December.
Antarctic sea ice extent was at or near record low levels throughout the year. The Greenland ice sheet has lost approximately 3,600 billion tons of ice mass since 2002.
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