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One Million Species Face Extinction Because of Humans: UN Report

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May 6, 2019

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Image Courtesy of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Around one million plant and animal species are facing the threat of extinction, at rates more accelerated than ever seen before in human history, a UN panel announced in a landmark report today. While the detailed, exhaustive report compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries augured a positive outcome contingent on “transformative change,” the utter destruction caused by human activity to plants’ and animals’ lives is staggering. What’s more, the interdependence of humans and other species around the globe irrevocably connects our fate to those we have irresponsibly endangered.

More than 500,000 terrestrial species are in danger of losing their habitat for good; more than 40% of the world’s amphibian species are under threat of being wiped out; 60% of marine fish are being harvested at rates unsustainable for their survival; there are 400 low-oxygen “dead zones” in coastal areas where no animals can survive (combined area greater than the size of the United Kingdom); and 7% of the world’s intact forests were lost in only 13 years, from 2000 to 2013. As a result, human beings depending on these ecosystems for survival have also felt the burden of increased rates of commercial exploitation of natural habitats and its inhabitants, according to the report released by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. 

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” said IPBES Chair, Robert Watson in a statement. 

Humans have changed more than a third of the world’s land, and assigned almost 75% of freshwater sources to agricultural production, altering coastal habitats in a way that has rendered 100 to 300 million people vulnerable to floods and hurricanes. Moreover, especially in tropical regions like South-East Asia, agricultural expansion has destroyed intact forests, almost 7.5 million hectares that’s now used to grow palm oil for food, cosmetics, cleaning products and fuel. 

The authors of the report identified five drivers for the rapid decline of natural ecosystems: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species that have been introduced in foreign lands to devastatingly affect indigenous species — all to foster global trade. Researchers also predicted that climate change, third deadliest cause of this rapid decline of species for now, will soon surpass other drivers.

Other causes include “increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions,” said Prof. Eduardo S. Brondízio, co-chair of the assessment. 

All, however, is not lost, the researchers argue. From local communities to global institutions, “transformative change” is required to reverse the doomed course humans have embarked upon, Watson said in a statement. One of the key emphasis was on the ability of indigenous people and local communities to take care of the ecosystems they share with other species — while the rate of degradation of land and sea is lower in indigenous and protected lands than elsewhere, these areas are also the most heavily targeted for commercial exploitation. 


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“Recognition of the knowledge, innovations and practices, institutions and values of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities and their inclusion and participation in environmental governance often enhances their quality of life, as well as nature conservation, restoration and sustainable use,” the report adds.

Researchers giving dire warnings about how the climate around us is deteriorating at exponential rates is becoming a more frequent phenomenon. It’s work we need to pay attention to, especially with the rise of populism around the world that has empowered leaders to deny science and ignore the effects of climate change on endangered communities. We have humans deciding to not have children because they don’t expect an inhabitable, enriching world for them to live in; we see the existing children of the world increasingly impoverished in light of unsustainable farming practices driving down food quality and shooting up prices; and in the meantime, increasingly frequent, devastating natural disasters are wreaking havoc on developing countries. This is not the time to stop paying attention.

As Watson said in the statement, “By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good.” 

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

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