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.

The summary, “Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’” was released on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services website.

“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.

marine plastics
Collecting marine debris in Sargassum. (Photo Credit: USM)

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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.