United Nations biodiversity experts say that one million species face extinction due to human activities, according to a summary of a report that will be released later this year, and the UNESCO director has put the world on notice.
“Following the adoption of this historic report, no one will be able to claim that they did not know,” – UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in a statement released to the media. “We can no longer continue to destroy the diversity of life. This is our responsibility towards future generations.”
Azoulay said that the importance of diversity, notably the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems must be protected and is as vital as fighting climate change.
The report, which was approved by more than 130 government delegations at UNESCO headquarters, is comprised of data compiled by 400 experts from 50 countries. It looks into the state of nature and ecosystems and how nature is changed by human activity. It also delves into the progress of UN international goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Agreement on climate change, of which the United States withdrew under the Trump regime. Some key highlights of the report
One in four species is at risk The report says that human activities “threaten more species now than ever before” due in part to the fact that 25 percent of of species in plant and animal groups are vulnerable. They cite the a further acceleration in the “global rate of species extinction” that the report says is 10 times higher than the average over the last 10 million years. One million species face extinction within decades unless we take action to reduce “the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss.”
Crop security is threatened long term The report states that wild relatives of domesticated food crops are needed for long term food security, and currently lack effective protection, and the status of wild relatives of domesticated birds and mammals is getting worse. The report states that when there are reductions in the diversity of cultivated crops, crop wild relatives and domesticated breeds will cause farming to be less resilient against future climate change, crop and animal pests and pathogens.
Marine pollution has increased tenfold since 1980 “Marine plastic pollution in particular has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species”, the report says. The report says 86 percent of marine turtles, 44 percent of seabirds and 43 percent of marine mammals have been negatively affected by marine plastic pollution.
“The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being,” Sir Robert Watson, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Chair said in the statement. “Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. Policies, efforts and actions – at every level – will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence.”
Other key takeaways in the report:
Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.
The full report, which is expected to be more than 1,500 pages, is scheduled to be released later this year.
Taiwan is initiating a ban of single use plastics, starting with plastic drinking straws in 2020, according to a report in the Hong Kong Free Press.
These plastic items will be banned at fast food chains and other restaurants starting in 2020. By 2025, there will be a fee for takeaway plastic straws, and by 2030, a total ban will go into effect for plastic straws. Plastic shopping bags, disposable food containers and disposable utensils will also be banned in 2020 from all retail stores that issue uniform invoices. A complete ban on these plastics (plastic bags, disposable utensils and disposable beverage cups) will go into effect in 2030.
“You can use steel products, or edible straws – or maybe you just don’t need to use straws at all,” Taiwan Minister Lee Ying-yuan told the Hong Kong Free Press. “There is no inconvenience caused at all.”
The minister also said that the non-use of plastic is the responsibility of all people and not just his agency, and the elimination of these single use plastics will create a cleaner environment.
The ban on plastic straws has gained steam since the uploading of a YouTube video by Christine Figgener with the Leatherback Trust. Figgener in 2015 recorded her colleague Nathan J. Robinson removing what they initially thought was a tube worm, but turned out to be a plastic straw, lodged in the nostril of an olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). Figgener’s video went viral in 2018 when mainstream media interviewed her to discuss the impact her video had on society after three years of sharing on the Internet.
Since the release of the video, corporations have initiated bans on single use plastics on their own. Starbucks will stop using plastic straws in 2020 and guests at Hyatt Hotels have to request for plastic straws and stirrers. Scotland will ban plastic straws by the end of this year, and municipalities around the world have initiated regulations and bans of single use plastics. Seattle, WA banned plastic straws in 2018. A sampling of the companies below that have banned plastic straws.
Single use plastics such as plastic straws are a hazard to the environment due in large part to the sheer number littering the world’s oceans and the fact that they are plastic.
Australian scientists Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox studied the data from coastal cleanups just in the United States and found that close to 7.5 million plastic straws litter the shorelines of the United States and 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws litter the world’s coastlines.
If you have a need for straws, please invest in a stainless steel straw. If you don’t have a need, refuse when offered them. Keep our oceans clean. Clean our oceans.
Want to know what marine plastics looks like from the perspective of a jellyfish? Then you will have to see the new virtual reality film “Drop in the Ocean” which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York today through May 4.
The film essentially shrinks the viewer down to the size of a jellyfish as the jelly winds its way through an ocean that is mired in plastic pollution. The film allows full freedom of movement in an interactive VR experience. It comes at a time when the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the world’s oceans every minute, killing more than one million marine bins and 100,000 marine animals every year.
“Every year, 18 billion pounds of plastic waste ends up in our oceans. Our oceans are drowning in plastic pollution,” Executive Producer and Conservation International CEO Dr. M. Sanjayan said in a statement released to the media. “While the world is waking up to this global crisis, this project truly helps us to see and feel the impact on all of the ocean’s living creatures. We need to move fast in order to save them and the waters that sustain life on Earth.”
The film will open May 2019 to the general public at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The film, narrated by Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau is built around the photo archive of Peter Parks, an Academy Award-winning micro-photographer. the California Academy of Sciences, Earth Echo, Gold Panda, Mimic, Target 3D and Thinc Design all contributed to the making of the film.
In a bid to help coastal and island communities to reduce their debt burdens, while helping to save and restore the world’s oceans, the Nature Conservancy announced that it will start selling “blue bonds” to help restructure and refinance debt for communities that live near the ocean. As part of its Blue Bonds for Conservation initiative, the Nature Conservancy is hoping that these nations will protect at least 30 percent of near-shore ocean areas such as coral reefs, mangroves and related near-shore ocean habitat, in exchange for better debt repayment terms. (See “Greenpeace Releases 30×30 Blueprint For Ocean Protection)
As part of its Blue Bonds for Conservation initiative, the Nature Conservancy is hoping that these nations will protect at least 30 percent of near-shore ocean areas such as coral reefs, mangroves and related near-shore ocean habitat, in exchange for better debt repayment terms.
The countries’ governments commit to protect at least 30 percent of their near-shore ocean areas, including coral reefs, mangroves and other important habitats, and engage in ongoing conservation work such as improving fisheries management and reducing pollution.
Then TNC leverages public grants and commercial capital to restructure the nations’ sovereign debt, leading to lower interest rates and longer repayment periods.
A portion of those savings fund the new marine protected areas and the conservation activities to which the country has committed.
We also lend our scientific expertise to the planning process and work with local partners to identify activities that combine conservation and sustainable economic opportunities, such as restoring reefs for tourism and improving fisheries management to help ensure buy in and compliance from all stakeholders.
“There’s still time to reverse decades of damage to the world’s oceans before we hit the point of no return,” Mark Tercek, CEO of TNC told GreenBiz. “It’s going to take something audacious to tackle marine protection at this scale, which means thinking beyond more traditional approaches to ocean conservation.”
According to GreenBiz, TNC has already secured more than $US 23 million in funding from donors. It is hoping to secure $US 40 million, which will hopefully unlock $US 1.6 billion in ocean conservation funding. Up to 20 countries will be the recipients of these funds, of which the NTC hopes 1.5 million square miles of biodiverse, near-shore ocean areas are protected.
When a nation accepts these Blue Bond monies, marine scientists with The Nature Conservancy will develop a “marine spatial plan,” to help pay for newly established marine protected areas and other programs to help protect the oceans. These will be paid for via debt restructuring and philanthropic donations, according to GreenBiz.
“This is the philanthropic opportunity of a lifetime,” said Tercek. “Every dollar we raise will result in 40 times the impact. It’s hard to find better leverage than that.”
British researchers have determined that plastic fishing gear, such as fishing nets and line, are the biggest source of plastic in the North Atlantic Ocean and nearby seas.
The research, led by Clare Ostle of the Marine Biological Association in the United Kingdom, is based off findings from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) a data instrument that has been towed in oceans for more than 12 million miles since 1957. Ostle notes that plastic fishing gear accounts for 55 percent of entanglements, with the higher number of entanglements in the southern North Sea. The research also shows a decline in entanglement records of plastic bags since 2000, but a 10-fold increase in total plastics.
“It has been suggested that there may be a sink of plastic items within global oceans, which could have led to reduced estimates of sea surface plastics and have implications for plastic pollution,” the researchers write in their paper, “The rise in ocean plastics evidenced from a 60-year time series,” which is published in the open access journal Nature Communications.
“Perhaps the reason we have been able to show the expected increase is because the focus of this work has been on larger plastic items that entangle on the CPR.
“It should be noted that these larger plastics (macroplastics) break down under ultra-violet light and mechanical forces within the ocean, leading to smaller fragments forming microplastics, therefore they have the potential to be a proxy for a wide-range of plastic sizes within the oceans.”
They say that the increase in macroplastics in the world’s oceans from 1957 to 2016 is in line with the total increase in plastic production.
The complete paper, with data figures, can be read on the Nature.com website.
Researchers with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the United Kingdom, Universities of Stirling and Surrey in the UK, and the Arctic University of Norway, have released a study that has come up with a monetary figure of the cost of plastics found in the world’s oceans.
The study, “Global ecological, social and economic impacts of marine plastic” found that plastics that enter the world’s oceans, which they have labeled “marine plastic,” has huge negative impacts not only on the organisms that live in the oceans, but also to human health and wellbeing via what the researchers call marine ecosystems services. These services impact many of the foods that we eat (fisheries, aquaculture and materials for agricultural use), as well as the oxygen that we breathe, ocean recreation and leisure (heritage, culture and emotional importance, and experiential recreation and tourism), and climate and weather.
“We now know enough to be very concerned about how marine plastics are affecting sea life from our megafauna to the tiny creatures near the base of the food web – zooplankton,” Dr. Nicola Beaumont, an environmental economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and lead author of the study said in a statement released by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. “This study, for the first time shows that, while we should be concerned about ecological impacts, we should equally be worried about the economic and societal consequences which relate directly to our own health and wellbeing. Our calculations are a first stab at ‘putting a price on plastic’, we know we have to do more research to refine them, but we are convinced that already they are an underestimate of the real costs to global human society.
To come up with the dollar figure, the researchers looked at the global economic impact of plastics and then translated that data into ecosystem services impacts. They found that there will be a yearly 1 to 5 percent decline in marine ecosystems services delivery at an annual loss of $US 500 million to $2.5 billion in the value of the services mentioned above.
From a cost per ton of plastic perspective, the researchers claimed a reduced environmental value between $3,300 and $33,000 per ton of marine plastic. This is based on 2011 estimates of 75 and 150 million tons of plastic dumped in the world’s oceans.
“Knowing this price can help us make informed decisions: recycling a tonne of plastic costs us hundreds against the costs of thousands if we let it into the marine environment; we now trade carbon to reduce emissions to the atmosphere, we should be able to do something similar with plastics,” Beaumont said. “We hope this study will highlight the reality of the plastic problem in human terms. It’s time this aspect of plastic pollution was part of the global conversation; policy makers and industry need to wake up to this aspect of plastic pollution and begin to make the changes our ocean and our futures need.”
“Only by doing this can we help inform a realistic and responsible global transition in the way we make, use, replace and reuse, rather than dispose of, plastic,” the researchers wrote.
The complete paper, “Global ecological, social and economic impacts of marine plastic,” can be read in its entirely on ScienceDirect.com.