Scientists warn of continuing, dangerous declines in global biodiversity

Biodiversity continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s well-being. This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere, according to four recently released landmark science reports, written by more than 550 leading experts from over 100 countries.

The result of three years of work, the four regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services cover the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, as well as Europe and Central Asia – the entire planet except the poles and the open oceans. The assessment reports were approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in Medellín, Colombia, at the 6th session of its Plenary. IPBES has 129 State Members.

The extensively peer-reviewed IPBES assessment reports focus on providing answers to key questions for each of the four regions, including: Why is biodiversity important? Where are we making progress? What are the main threats and opportunities for biodiversity? And how can we adjust our policies and institutions for a more sustainable future?

In every region, with the exception of a number of positive examples where lessons can be learned, biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures – habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change, among others.

Research Fellow in Zoology at Trinity, Dr Luca Coscieme, was one of the global experts who contributed to the Europe and Central Asia assessment.

In this region, which of course comprises Ireland, is the major trend of increasing intensity of conventional agriculture and forestry, which leads to biodiversity decline. There are also examples of sustainable agricultural and forestry practices that are beneficial to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people in the region. Nature’s material contributions to people, such as food and energy, have however, been promoted at the expense of both regulating contributions, such as pollination and soil formation, and non-material contributions, such as cultural experiences or opportunities to develop a sense of place.

In the European Union, among assessments of the conservation status of species and habitat types of conservation interest, only 7% of marine species and 9% of marine habitat types show a ‘favourable conservation status’. Moreover 27% of species assessments and 66% of habitat types assessments show an ‘unfavourable conservation status’, with the others categorised as ‘unknown’.

Dr Coscieme said: “Further economic growth can only facilitate sustainable development if it is decoupled from the degradation of biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people. Such decoupling, however, has not yet happened, and would require far-reaching change in policies and tax reforms at the global and national levels.”

“The Irish scientific community is, though, providing evidence that is guiding policymakers towards halting biodiversity loss.”

One such example was rubber-stamped during the 6th IPBES Plenary, when Ireland signed on to the Coalition of the Willing to save pollinators, committing to take action to protect pollinators and their habitats by further developing and implementing national pollinator strategies.

Promising policy options are still available

Accompanying the stark concerns of the IPBES experts, however, are messages of hope: promising policy options do exist and have been found to work in protecting and restoring biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, where they have been effectively applied. Within the Europe and Central Asia setting, some progress has already been made in mainstreaming biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people into public and private decision-making.

The assessment report highlights integrated approaches. These include measuring national welfare beyond GDP. Governance could become more effective by using well-designed mixes of policy instruments to motivate changes in behaviour to support sustainable development. The authors also emphasise the relevance of reconciling biodiversity conservation and human rights standards through rights-based instruments, as well as capacity building for indigenous peoples and local communities. Sufficient funding is also needed to support research, monitoring, education and training.

About the IPBES Regional Assessment Reports

Three years in development, at a total cost of about US$5 million, the IPBES Regional Assessment Reports on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services involved the review of several thousand scientific papers, as well as extensive Government and other information sources, including indigenous and local knowledge, to arrive at conclusions about each region’s land-based, freshwater and coastal biodiversity, as well as the state of ecosystem functioning and nature’s contributions to people. Together they represent the most important expert contribution of the past decade to understanding of nature and its contributions to people, offering a roadmap for future action.

Full report media summaries are at: https://www.ipbes.net/news/media-release-biodiversity-nature%E2%80%99s-contributions-continue-%C2%A0dangerous-decline-scientists-warn

IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson, said: “Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life.”

“The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: 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.”

Media Contact:

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685