The UN has revealed that 14 of the 20 goals set in 2010 to halt the accelerating decline of nature have not been met and is urging governments, businesses and individuals to accelerate habitat and biodiversity restoration.
According to the body’s fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook report, just 2% of the world’s terrestrial habitat which is degraded and would benefit from restoration is currently receiving such attention. This is in spite of the fact that more than one million species are classified as ‘at risk’ of extinction, and that the risks of nature loss to society, the economy and efforts to halt climate change have been quantified.
The report outlines, in detail, eight major transitions away from “business-as-usual” models which the UN believes must be made if the world is to align with its forthcoming ‘Paris-style’ agreement on preventing Earth’s sixth mass extinction. This agreement is currently in development and is due to be published next month, following a summit in Kunming.
Transitions must be made, as a matter of urgency, to the ways in which humanity manages land and forests; argriculture; food systems; fisheries and oceans; freshwater habitats and cities, the report warns. These recommendations build on previous conclusions reached by the IPCC and WWF.
Climate policies must also be beefed-up to include fossil-fuel phase-outs and better funding for nature-based climate solutions, the report concludes. Subsidies and bail-outs for fossil fuel companies are estimated to have accounted for 6.5% of global GDP in 2017. And, while $9.3bn of international public finance was allocated to biodiversity between 2010 and 2020 – up twofold on the previous decade – more is desperately needed.
The report’s overarching transition recommendation is for the creation of an integrated approach which recognises the interconnectivity of ecosystem health, planetary health and human health, which would stop businesses and governments externalising the true impacts of their decisions.
“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised, and the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity,” the Convention on Biological Diversity’s executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said.
“The decisions and level of action we take now will have profound consequences – for good or ill – for all species, including ours.”
Brink of extinction
The publication of the report comes just days after the BBC aired its latest David Attenborough documentary, ‘Extinction: The Facts’.
The hour-long programme highlighted the fact that biodiversity loss is currently occurring and unprecedented speeds – 100 times faster than the natural rate – and across an unprecedented breadth of species, with every category affected.
Alongside contributions from leading climate scientists and biodiversity experts, Sir David provided his personal insight, telling of how some of the plants, animals, cultures and habitats he witnessed in the early stages of his career as a naturalist have now been lost due to human activity.
Key figures across the business sphere, along with MPs from all major political parties, have praised and promoted the documentary. #ExtinctionTheFacts was the most-used hashtag for Labour MPs on the day of broadcast, according to UK MP Tweets. Several Conservative MPs, as well as Carrie Symonds, have joined Lib Dem and Green MPs in tweeting their reactions and support.
Glimmers of hope
While the overall picture presented in the UN’s report is negative and disheartening, the document does highlight several success stories to have materialised in the past decade.
Around 43% of the world’s key biodiversity areas are now included in protected areas, up from 29% in 2000, the report reveals. The UN’s agreement on nature, in its current form, would see nations agree to protect at least 30% of all areas.
Moreover, annual deforestation rates were one-third lower between 2015 and 2020 than between 2000 and 2010; up to 48 species of mammals and birds have been saved from extinction since 1993 and 1.4 billion species are now listed through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) – seven times more species than were listed in 2010.