Thursday, May 9, 2019

Our Planet is in Peril

Whether on land, in the seas or in the skies, the devastating impact of humans on nature is laid bare in a compelling UN report. 

Thanks to us, Nature everywhere is declining at a speed never previously seen – all because of our endless needs for more energy and more food. 

Three years in the making, this landmark global assessment of nature draws on 15,000 reference materials, and has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that runs to 1,800 pages. 

This is the first comprehensive look in 15 years at the state of the planet’s biodiversity. The brief, 40-page "summary for policymakers", published Monday at a Paris meeting in France is perhaps the most powerful indictment of how we humans have treated our only home. 

It says that while the Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans through history, over the past 50 years, these scratches have become deep scars. Our planet is truly ravaged. 

The world's population has doubled since 1970, the global economy has grown four-fold, while international trade has increased 10 times over. To feed, clothe and give energy to this burgeoning world, forests have been cleared at astonishing rates, especially in tropical areas. 

Between 1980 and 2000, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost, mainly from cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantations in South East Asia. Some remote tropical forests are nearly silent as insects have vanished, and grasslands are increasingly becoming deserts. 

Faring worse than forests are wetlands, with only 13% of those present in 1700 still in existence in the year 2000. 

It's a similar story at sea. Only 3% of the world's oceans were described as free from human pressure in 2014. Fish are being exploited as never before, with 33% of fish stocks harvested at unsustainable levels in 2015. Live coral cover on reefs has nearly halved over the past 150 years. 

Pushing all this forward, though, are increased demands for food from a growing global population and specifically our growing appetite for meat and fish. 

"Land use now appears as the major driver of the biodiversity collapse, with 70% of agriculture related to meat production", said Yann Laurans from IDDRI, the French policy research institute. 

Our cities have multiplied rapidly, with urban areas doubling since 1992. Our human activity is killing species in greater numbers than ever before. 

All this suggests around a million species now face extinction within decades, a rate of destruction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. 

To safeguard our world as we know it, society needs to shift from a singular focus on chasing economic growth, the summary report concludes. 

That won’t be easy – but it could be easier if countries begin to base their economies on an understanding that nature is the foundation for development. 

What these researchers are saying is that shifting to nature-based planning can help provide a better quality of life with far less damaging impact on our environment. 

It is no longer about growing the GDP – but changing what we value: nature, ecosystems, social equity. 

Dr Kate Brauman from the University of Minnesota and a coordinating lead author of the assessment warns: “We have documented a really unprecedented decline in biodiversity and nature, this is completely different than anything we've seen in human history in terms of the rate of decline and the scale of the threat". 

As Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES said: “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide”. 

It is hoped that their assessment becomes as critical to the argument about biodiversity loss as the IPCC report on 1.5C has done to the debate over climate change.

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