Shock report about life on Earth: We’re in deep trouble
The United Nations Special Report on Global Warming in 2018 sounded a sharp warning few could disagree with: Earth has a problem. A new UN report on Biodiversity released this week revealed the size of that problem.
In Paris at 13h30 on Monday (6 May 2019), United Nations geographer Eduardo Brondizio outlined how humans are unravelling the fabric of life on Earth. His message: If we don’t act as a species and make major changes to our lifestyle soon, our future is going to be extremely grim.
He wasn’t speculating. In his hand at its delivery was a 1,800-page assessment produced by about 500 top scientists in collaboration with representatives from 130 countries.
The report underlines our dependency on nature and our effect on it. More than 75% of food crops rely on animal pollination. Marine and land ecosystems extract 5.6 gigatons of carbon a year and without them, the planet would fry through global warming. We rely on clean air and water produced by natural processes.
However, since 1900 the abundance of native species has declined by 20% and a further 25% are threatened, with about a million species facing extinction. Half a million of those are insects. This impacts on all human life.
Our current extractive economic narrative has mapped itself on to the planet’s surface. Three-quarters of the Earth’s land surface was found to have been significantly altered, 66% of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts and more than 85% of wetland areas have been lost.
Humans, say the scientists, are also fast-forwarding biological evolution — so rapidly that effects can be seen within a few years rather than over millennia. Many of these changes are among pathogens that affect our health. The rate of this change, they say, is unprecedented in human history.
The main drivers are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasions of alien species (nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s surface is at risk of plant and animal invasions).
Crop production has increased threefold since 1970 and timber harvest by 45%, but land degradation is reducing productivity, with crops now at risk from pollinator loss, floods and hurricanes.
Globally, local varieties and breeds of even domesticated plants and animals are disappearing, says the report. This loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.
The report maps out solutions, but notes that goals for conserving nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories. Because of ongoing rapid declines in biodiversity, ecosystem functions and many of nature’s contributions, goals are unlikely to be met if we continue on our present course.