World leaders are being urged to take action to halt declines in nature as a major report issues a stark warning.
Over a million species of plants and animals are under threat of extinction, according to a major report which says nature is in more trouble now that at any time in human history.
Species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past – and the disaster is a direct result of human activity.
These are the findings of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – put together for the United Nations by 450 experts from 50 countries.
The report says more than half a million species on land “have insufficient habitat for long-term survival” and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored.
And the oceans are no better off, the report adds.
The report looked at changes to the natural world over the past five decades. In that time, the world’s human population has doubled and demand for energy and materials has massively increased.
:: More than 40% of amphibians, 33% of corals, a third of all marine mammals and a “tentative estimate” of 10% of insects are threatened with extinction.
:: At least 680 species of vertebrates, including animals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians, have become extinct since the 1500s.
:: The biggest cause of losses to wildlife is change to habitats.
:: Three-quarters of land has been “significantly altered” as cities grow, industry and infrastructure increases, forests are cut down and grassland ploughed for crops or livestock.
:: Plastic pollution in seas has gone up 10-fold since 1980, putting turtles, seabirds and mammals at risk.
:: 85% of wetlands have been lost since 1700.
:: Fertiliser run-off has created 400 “dead zones” in the oceans, totalling an area greater than the size of the UK.
:: Areas managed by indigenous people are under increasing pressure but nature in them is generally declining less rapidly than elsewhere.
:: About a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by clearing land, growing crops and using fertilisers, mostly to produce meat and dairy.
British scientist and chairman of the IPBES Sir Robert Watson said: “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
He added: “The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.”
Among the ambitions that would help the planet, experts say we need to…
:: Stop concentrating on economic growth
:: Bring in wildlife-friendly farming
:: Restore habitats such as native forests
:: Cut food waste
:: Create marine protected areas and use effective quotas for fishing
:: Reduce pollution
:: Create more green spaces in cities
It calls for “decisive and ambitious action from world leaders” to make the change.
And without that “transformational change” to our world economy and society to restore nature, the damage will continue or worsen up to 2050 and beyond, directly threatening human well-being on the planet.
The experts also warn that “vested interests” will oppose changes to the status quo – but this should be fought against for the public good.
To support the report, almost 600 conservation experts have signed a “Call4Nature” open letter initiated by wildlife charity WWF.
The Call4Nature letter, published as the G7 group of leading nations’ environment ministers meet in France, says: “Nature provides us with the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink.
“We depend on it to grow our crops, to source our medicines, to house us and to clothe us. When we destroy nature, we destroy the essentials on which we all depend.
“There is still time to protect what is left and to start restoring nature. But to do that, we must radically change the way we live, including how we use energy to power our societies, grow our food and manage our waste.”
The IPBES report’s authors hope their evidence will help inform policies and provide the basis for new global targets to protect nature at a UN summit in China in 2020.
Environmental charity Friends of the Earth is warning the decline of biodiversity – the wealth and variety of plant and animal life on Earth – including in the UK, is setting people on a “path to catastrophe”.
Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to human well-being – if we don’t reverse its decline we are risking a future where we can’t even grow the food we need for basic survival.”
The 1,800-page IPBES report has taken three years to complete and drawn on thousands of pieces of evidence.
The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that’s becoming harder for humans to live in, said Mr Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.
“We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric” of humanity, he said.