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'Dangerous' Decline in Biodiversity Threatening Humanity's Wellbeing Worldwide

"We must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature—or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead."

A little girl searches for recyclable materials in a garbage dump with smelling gas evaporating around her in Mandalay city, Mandalay province, Myanmar. (Photo: Nyaung U/United Nations Development Programme)

From failures to combat global warming to pollution and the exploitation of natural resources, human activity is significantly contributing to a worldwide and "dangerous" decline in biodiversity, jeopardizing nature's ability to benefit to people's wellbeing, according to a major study published Friday.

"Biodiversity and nature's contributions...are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities, and enjoyment of life."
—Robert Watson, IPBES

"Biodiversity and nature's contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives," noted Robert Watson, chair of the intergovernmental body that compiled the research.

"Nothing could be further from the truth—they are the bedrock of our food, clean water, and energy," he said. "They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities, and enjoyment of life."

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) brought together more than 550 experts from all around the world for the peer-reviewed United Nations-backed assessment, which was conducted over three years. Researchers found that people in all four studied regions—the Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia—are threatening the essential variability of living creatures around them.

IPBES executive secretary Anne Larigauderie warns that achieving the various goals for humanity and the planet set forth by U.N. bodies in recent years "all depend on the health and vitality of our natural environment in all its diversity and complexity."

"Richer, more diverse ecosystems are better able to cope with disturbances—such as extreme events and the emergence of diseases," Larigauderie explained. Diverse ecosystems not only operate as "our 'insurance policy' against unforeseen disasters," but also "offer many of the best solutions to our most pressing challenges."

The goal of the study was to analyze threats to biodiversity, identify ways and regions in which progress is being made, and prescribe policy improvements for each region studied.

The Asia-Pacific report featured grave warnings about marine life. Researchers expressed concerns about mounting threats to coral reefs, and warned "unsustainable aquaculture practices, overfishing, and destructive harvesting, threaten coastal and marine ecosystems, with projections that, if current fishing practices continue, there will be no exploitable fish stocks in the region by 2048."

In assessments for both Africa and the Americas, researchers noted that anthropogenic climate change will be a major driver of biodiversity loss over the next 30 years. They also emphasized the need to incorporate knowledge and practices from local indigenous populations into broader policies.

The Europe and Central Asia report also proposed intergration of indigenous knowledge. This assessment emphasized the region's troubling land-use practices, noting the need for more sustainable agricultural and foresty practices.

"Although there are no 'silver bullets' or 'one-size-fits all' answers," Watson acknowledged, "the best options in all four regional assessments are found in better governance, integrating biodiversity concerns into sectoral policies and practices (e.g. agriculture and energy), the application of scientific knowledge and technology, increased awareness, and behavioral changes."

The study's main conclusion, he said, is that "we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature—or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead. Fortunately, the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets."

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