UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of other species

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this Dec. 4, 2018, file photo, birds fly past a smoking chimney in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Development that's led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

People are putting nature in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday.

But it's not too late to fix the problem, according to the United Nations' first comprehensive report on biodiversity.

"We have reconfigured dramatically life on the planet," report co-chairman Eduardo Brondizio of Indiana University said at a press conference.

Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land "have insufficient habitat for long-term survival" and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off.

"Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity's own future," said George Mason University biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity for his research. He was not part of the report.

"The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that," Lovejoy said.

Conservation scientists convened in Paris to issue the report, which exceeded 1,000 pages. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. The report's summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations.

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this June 7, 2017, file photo, two wild elephants, part of a herd that arrived at a wetland near the Thakurkuchi railway station engage in a tussle on the outskirts of Gauhati, Assam, India. Development that's led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath, File)

Some nations hit harder by the losses, like small island countries, wanted more in the report. Others, such as the United States, were cautious in the language they sought, but they agreed "we're in trouble," said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, who observed the final negotiations.

"This is the strongest call we've seen for reversing the trends on the loss of nature," Shaw said.

The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that's becoming harder for humans to live in, said Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.

"We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric" of humanity, Watson told The Associated Press.

It's also an economic and security issue as countries fight over scarcer resources. Watson said the poor in less developed countries bear the greatest burden.

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this June 21, 2015, file photo, a fisherman unloads his catch in the port of Suao, north eastern Taiwan. Development that's led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)

The report's 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:

— Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth's land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.

— Overfishing the world's oceans. A third of the world's fish stocks are overfished.

— Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world's land mammals—not including bats—and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

— Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world's waters.

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this Oct. 21, 2018, file photo, a couple walks through a forest with the Frankfurt skyline in background near Frankfurt, Germany. Development that's led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

— Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70% since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

"The key to remember is, it's not a terminal diagnosis," said report co-author Andrew Purvis of the Natural History Museum in London.

Fighting climate change and saving species are equally important, the report said, and working on both environmental problems should go hand in hand. Both problems exacerbate each other because a warmer world means fewer species, and a less biodiverse world means fewer trees and plants to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air, Lovejoy said.

The world's coral reefs are a perfect example of where climate change and species loss intersect. If the world warms another 0.9 degrees (0.5 degrees Celsius), which other reports say is likely, coral reefs will probably dwindle by 70% to 90%, the report said. At 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius), the report said, 99% of the world's coral will be in trouble.

"Business as usual is a disaster," Watson said.

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this Dec. 14, 2011, file photo, a lemur looks through the forest at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park in Andasibe, Madagascar. Development that's led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso, File)

At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. More than 40% of the world's amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction.

The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species.

The IUCN calculated in March that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants.

Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.

The report comes up with 1 million species in trouble by extrapolating the IUCN's 25% threatened rate to the rest of the world's species and using a lower rate for the estimated 5.5 million species of insects, Watson said.

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this Aug. 30, 2008, file photo, fish swim next to a coral reef at Cayo de Agua in archipelago Los Roques, Venezuela. Development that's led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

Outside scientists, such as Lovejoy and others, said that's a reasonable assessment.

The report gives only a generic "within decades" time frame for species loss because it is dependent on many variables, including taking the problem seriously, which can reduce the severity of the projections, Watson said.

"We're in the middle of the sixth great extinction crisis, but it's happening in slow motion," said Conservation International and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Lee Hannah, who was not part of the report.

Five times in the past, Earth has undergone mass extinctions where much of life on Earth blinked out, like the one that killed the dinosaurs. Watson said the report was careful not to call what's going on now as a sixth big die-off because current levels don't come close to the 75% level in past mass extinctions.

The report goes beyond species. Of the 18 measured ways nature helps humans, the report said 14 are declining, with food and energy production noticeable exceptions. The report found downward trends in nature's ability to provide clean air and water, good soil and other essentials.

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species
In this March 20, 2018, file photo, giraffes and zebras congregate under the shade of a tree in the afternoon in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. The United Nations will issue its first comprehensive global scientific report on biodiversity on Monday, May 6, 2019. The report will explore the threat of extinction for Earth's plants and animals. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats, and it's happening worldwide, Watson said. The report projects 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers) of new roads will be paved over nature between now and 2050, most in the developing world.

Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people.

Individuals can help with simple changes to the way they eat and use energy, said the co-chairman of the report, ecological scientist Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. That doesn't mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but balancing meat, vegetables and fruit, and walking and biking more, Watson said.

"We can actually feed all the coming billions of people without destroying another inch of nature," Lovejoy said. Much of that can be done by eliminating food waste and being more efficient, he said.


Explore further

In degrading Nature humanity harms itself, UN report warns

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of other species (2019, May 6) retrieved 20 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-05-humans-extinction-species.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
95 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 06, 2019
Nothing else reveals our contempt for our children quite like the way we destroy their world with the minutes and days of our lives, while yearning for fake afterlives and spurious religious doctrines. Stop mowing lawns and paving over soil. Stop consuming and become generative. Tax gasoline up to $25/gallon. Payments due to people who choose not to reproduce.

May 06, 2019
Stop hypocrites like former US vice-president Al Gore from talking out of both sides of his mouth, where he talks/complains about AGW and 'Climate Change' while contributing to AGW and Climate Change himself by his usage of 'fossil fuels' each time he gets into his limousines and flys in airplanes, amongst other contributions to global warming.
Talk is cheap and talking about one thing while doing another is the cheapest.

May 06, 2019
There are lies, damned lies and AGW Cult "science"

May 06, 2019
I previously blocked both of you, thanks for playing

May 06, 2019
@SURFIN85
You're welcome.
Your "fake afterlives" and "spurious religious doctrines" seem not to have any effect on those such as Al Gore who talk about AGW but fails to curb HIS OWN abusive behaviours wrt the future of the Earth and its innocent animals. With his wealth he can afford the luxury of averting anything that could possibly harm him and HIS own children. Ditto for such wealthy as George Soros and Hollywood.
Your words fall on "deaf eyes" here in physorg. You should be relating your concerns to those who are 'mowing their lawns' and 'paving over soil'.
Your impulsive admonition for your fellow humans to 'stop consuming' would hurt the economy and hurt the workers who depend on those jobs and the consumers that pay their salaries. Have you thought these things out well enough? I doubt it.
Since you say that you have blocked my comments, then it would be impossible for you to 'LEARN THE ROPES' and you will continue in your anger and hatred against humans just living

May 06, 2019
I am not sure what is the solution for this menace, but after reading the report I can tell that human has destroyed the earth.
https://www.ipbes...ment.pdf

May 06, 2019
Well, as I mentioned on the 'NASA study verifies global warming trends' (PysOrg April 16 2019) thread from my point of view '— Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless....' is confirmed where I live. Obviously I don't have large amounts of data from elsewhere but a friend living 300km from me says that something similar is happening where he lives. Widening roads, replacing local forests with building development; there is an increase of animal invasion to local markets and homes; several tourist spots have been hit by pollution this year (first time apparently) so much that hospitals have found it difficult to cope with treating throat and chest inflammation.
If the same is happening around the world, add that to any natural climate change and it becomes a problem.

May 06, 2019
SEU's argument: "The Earth might have a big species extinction problem, but we're not going to do anything because Al Gore's a dick!"

Oh no a hypocritical politician! What next?

May 07, 2019
I previously blocked both of you, thanks for playing


Same here. Let them troll, they are part of the problem and could not care less about the solution.

I can tell that human has destroyed the earth.


I have not read the report, but I doubt that. While we cannot say "mass extinction" until it is major, the problem seems to be the extinction rate is more rapid than during the Great Five.

Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, it is the man made global warming that is *also* faster than earlier natural records. And the report implies the common cause.

But even if worst come to worst and we happily "troll" nature until a Great Extinction, nature will recover in 10 million years.

The problem is that our descendants will not see that, mammal species like humans become 1-2 million years on average. Our species is between 0.2 to 0.6 million already depending on your species definition [ https://genomebio...9-1684-5 ].

May 07, 2019
Well, as I mentioned on the 'NASA study verifies global warming trends' (PysOrg April 16 2019) thread from my point of view '— Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments.


Yes, we are evolutionary successful lately - we did not use to be, most other apes had larger populations - and that is now a problem. But I don't think cities are a problem as such, people living there use up less resources overall - land, housing, fuel, energy. (C.f. EU's analysis of why we should encourage city living.)

Note though that one other statistics - besides global temperatures and global diversity - where it goes square in around hole is that unplanned cityscapes (slum) increase. When we hit peak global population 2050ish, cities has grown from 50 % of people to 80 % and slums have grown from 5 % of cities to 20ish %. Luckily *that* should be temporary - if still unfortunate.

May 08, 2019
We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric" of humanity, Watson told The Associated Press.

A statement at odds with the fact that undernutrition has declined for decades and continues to as agricultural technology improves. See here:

https://ourworldi...rishment

The most significant challenges to overcome are political, not technological. Where there are wars or oppressive governments (socialism, monarchies, theocracies, oligarchies), nutrition is adversely affected. Despite these exceptions, the living standards and health of global humanity is generally improving.

And a global "biodiversity crisis"? Only in the fevered imaginations of misanthropic doomsayers. Habitat loss is a problem in underdeveloped and developing countries. In wealthy post-industrial countries, habitats are protected and increasing. The poor countries will get there too in time.

May 08, 2019
I am not an 'extinction' proponent because, imho, think that we are intelligent enough to avert that. Technology can be a problem in the hands of those who have destructive inclinations but again I see no reason why it has to be that way. Nor do I see a WWIII looming, its consequences would be too far reaching for everyone.
20 years ago Where I live there were was a lot of shade provided by trees and indeed pleasant to eat outside even with 39C. Those trees are all gone and it has become a choice of eating at home or in a restaurant with outside summer temperatures of 41-42C. I, and many others around me, don't see that as an improvement. In the hills villagers have destroyed the forests by burning continuously, breaking the law...but the law is not being enforced...and smog covers large areas.



Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more