Global Assessment Report On Biodiversity And Ecosystem Services
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an international organisation, with representatives from over 130 nations, aimed at providing policy makers with current scientific knowledge regarding the state of wildlife and ecosystems on earth. The Global Assessment Report is the first global survey of biodiversity since 2005, focusing on four main areas: the deterioration of natural ecosystems, the forces driving negative change to nature, the lack of progress toward protecting nature, and the changes needed to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem health. Referencing over 15,000 scientific reports, as well as a wealth of local and indigenous knowledge, the report describes a shocking decline in the health of the natural world and describes the path toward a sustainable future.
Firstly, the Global Assessment Report describes the status of our environment. Nature is essential to almost all ways of life, providing food, energy, and medicine as well as important cultural and spiritual aspects. Even just being around nature has a profound positive effect on our mental health. However, human activity is degrading the natural world. We have significantly altered 75% of land and 66% of water areas. More than half of all the coral reefs alive in 1870 are now dead or disappeared, and 85% of global wetlands have been lost. These effects on natural environments have a devastating impact for animals who inhabit affected regions. In fact, since recording began the abundance of native species in major ecosystems has declined by about 20% and the global biomass of wild animals by 82%. An assessment of extinction status found that about 25% of all species assessed are threatened, leading to an estimate that up to 1 million species currently face extinction. The current extinction rate is now 1000’s of times greater than the average across the past 10 million years.
The assessment report then turns to the causes of these devastating changes. It distinguishes between direct drivers, which are actual causes of change, and the indirect drivers, which are the forces behind those processes. On land, the most significant direct driver is changes in land use. Agriculture, for example, now takes up one-third of the earth’s land, while urban area has doubled since 1992. In the sea, exploitation of fish and shellfish is the most prominent factor. In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled and global trade increased 10-fold, which increases the demand for these processes. Climate change is a further direct driver of ecological destruction. Increases in global temperature, precipitation rates, and sea levels, along with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and uncontrolled plastic pollution, all affect the survival of organisms and their ecosystems. Unfortunately, economic incentives have generally favoured industrial expansion over environmental concerns.
Because of this fact, negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are expected to increase. Though several international frameworks exist for the preservation of land and protection of wildlife, we are not currently on track to reach those goals. For example, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are a set of 20 goals adopted as part of the broader Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, aimed at pushing governments to preserve ecosystems and wildlife. Though some targets may be achieved, such as land and sea conservation areas, identification of invasive species, and adoption of governmental action plans, the Global Assessment Report suggests it is likely that most Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be missed. Further, current declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services will likely undermine progress towards Sustainable Development goals relating to health, hunger, gender equality, oceans, and land. Unless transformative change is introduced, it is likely that human activity will continue to degrade natural environments.
In the final section, the Global Assessment Report outlines the possibility for a shift to sustainable human development. This requires fundamental change in the structure of our societies, because much of our daily activity relies on the very factors that promote environmental degradation. The report suggests the implementation of international standards alongside as locally relevant measures to increase awareness and action on conservation and sustainability. Local and indigenous knowledge is a major resource in the development of these standards and policies. Public support and international obligations will drive the transformation of agriculture, fishery, urban living, and global trade into sustainable practices. With this done, it will be possible to develop a sustainable economy that enables economic growth and human activity alongside a thriving and stable natural world.
This IPBES report received international media attention for the shocking figure of one million species facing extinction, but it provides so much more than bad news. The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services forces governments to recognize the damage being done to their lands, and provides a template for sustainable development in the future.
Find the full report here.
1. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. IPBES, 2019. Available from https://ipbes.net/global-assessment