UN Warns World Has Only Two Years to Halt Mankind's Destruction of Life on Earth
November 29, 2018 Jonathan Watts / The Guardian & Damian Carrington / The Guardian
The UN warns the world has two years to halt a 'silent killer' as dangerous as climate change, or face the collapse of human civilization. Humanity has virtually wiped out the majority of other living species on the planet. Now we must stop biodiversity loss or we could face our own extinction. And there's not much time left to act.
Humans constitute just 0.01% of all life
but we have destroyed 83% of all the mammals in the wild
Stop Biodiversity Loss or We Could Face our Own Extinction, Warns UN Jonathan Watts / The Guardian
LONDON (November 6, 2018) -- The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation's biodiversity chief.
Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pasca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
"The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer," she told the Guardian. "It's different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late."
Pasca Palmer is executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity -- the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends.
Its members -- 195 states and the EU -- will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world's ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity.
The last two major biodiversity agreements -- in 2002 and 2010 -- have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs.
Eight years ago, under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world's land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. "Paper reserves" can now be found from Brazil to China.
The issue is also low on the political agenda. Compared to climate summits, few heads of state attend biodiversity talks. Even before Donald Trump, the US refused to ratify the treaty and only sends an observer. Along with the Vatican, it is the only UN state not to participate.
Pasca Palmer says there are glimmers of hope. Several species in Africa and Asia have recovered (though most are in decline) and forest cover in Asia has increased by 2.5% (though it has decreased elsewhere at a faster rate). Marine protected areas have also widened.
But overall, she says, the picture is worrying. The already high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution and invasive species will accelerate in the coming 30 years as a result of climate change and growing human populations. By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse. The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth's ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.
"The numbers are staggering," says the former Romanian environment minister. "I hope we aren't the first species to document our own extinction."
Despite the weak government response to such an existential threat, she said her optimism about what she called "the infrastructure of life" was undimmed.
One cause for hope was a convergence of scientific concerns and growing interest from the business community. Last month, the UN's top climate and biodiversity institutions and scientists held their first joint meeting. They found that nature-based solutions -- such as forest protection, tree planting, land restoration and soil management -- could provide up to a third of the carbon absorption needed to keep global warming within the Paris agreement parameters.
In future the two UN arms of climate and biodiversity should issue joint assessments. She also noted that although politics in some countries were moving in the wrong direction, there were also positive developments such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently being the first world leader to note that the climate issue cannot be solved without a halt in biodiversity loss. This will be on the agenda of the next G7 summit in France.
"Things are moving. There is a lot of goodwill," she said. "We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed by inaction. It's still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing. We need higher levels of political and citizen will to support nature."
Humanity Has Wiped out 60% of
Animal Populations Since 1970, Report Finds The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also
threatens the survival of civilization Damian Carrington / The Guardian
(October 30, 2018) -- Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world's foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.
The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.
"We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff" said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. "If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done."
"This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is," he said. "This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a 'nice to have' -- it is our life-support system."
"We are rapidly running out of time," said Prof Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. "Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity's future on Earth."
Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species -- Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover.
The Living Planet Index, produced for WWF by the Zoological Society of London, uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife.
Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The "shocking truth", said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.
Wildlife and the ecosystems are vital to human life, said Prof Bob Watson, one of the world's most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said in March that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.
"Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth's climate, pollution, pollination and floods," he said. "The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations."
The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Killing for food is the next biggest cause -- 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction -- while the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished.
Chemical pollution is also significant: half the world's killer whale populations are now doomed to die from PCB contamination. Global trade introduces invasive species and disease, with amphibians decimated by a fungal disease thought to be spread by the pet trade.
The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. In the tropical savannah called cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months, said Barrett.
"It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because the deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens," he said. The UK itself has lost much of its wildlife, ranking 189th for biodiversity loss out of 218 nations in 2016.
The habitats suffering the greatest damage are rivers and lakes, where wildlife populations have fallen 83%, due to the enormous thirst of agriculture and the large number of dams. "Again there is this direct link between the food system and the depletion of wildlife," said Barrett. Eating less meat is an essential part of reversing losses, he said.
The Living Planet Index has been criticised as being too broad a measure of wildlife losses and smoothing over crucial details. But all indicators, from extinction rates to intactness of ecosystems, show colossal losses. "They all tell you the same story," said Barrett.
Conservation efforts can work, with tiger numbers having risen 20% in India in six years as habitat is protected. Giant pandas in China and otters in the UK have also been doing well.
But Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said the fundamental issue was consumption: "We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles."
The world's nations are working towards a crunch meeting of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, when new commitments for the protection of nature will be made. "We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it," said Barrett. "This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time."
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: "We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it." The Age of Extinction What is biodiversity and why does it matter?
Biodiversity describes the rich diversity of life on Earth, from individual species to entire ecosystems. The term was coined in 1985 -- a contraction of "biological diversity" -- but the huge global biodiversity losses now becoming apparent represent a crisis equaling and quite possibly surpassing climate change.
Deforestation, poaching, industrial farming and pollution are some of the ways in which the planet's natural ecosystem is being disrupted -- with devastating results. This series will look at the myriad ways that human activity has ravaged biodiversity, and how we can fight back.