The planet is at risk of losing 1 million species of plants and animals to extinction, many of them in the next few decades, a United Nations report has found.
The report, released by the UN's Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on Monday, is the most definitive planetary health check ever conducted and has found that earth is fast losing its biodiversity—at rates never seen before.
It warns that wanton destruction of biodiversity poses an existential threat to human beings, affecting the ability of people to feed themselves and exposing them to the ravages of extreme weather.
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said Robert Watson, IPBES chair, during the launch of the report in Paris. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
The damning report has commanded global attention and drawn focus on the interactions between people and the natural environment. The consensus is that human beings have not only made insufficient effort to protect the earth, they have actively driven it to breaking point through unsustainable land and sea use, exploitation of organisms, climate change, and pollution. Invasive species are also contributing to the dire loss of biodiversity.
“We are not doing enough to address these issues. We need a radical change in how we think about biodiversity loss because it is not only an environmental problem, it has direct consequences on economies, development, security, general well-being,” said African Wildlife Foundation Chief Executive Officer Kaddu Sebunya.
“This fight is therefore too important to be left only to conservationists or scientists or activists. We must see a commitment to protecting biodiversity being made and implemented by governments, the private sector, and the whole society in general. We are in this together,” he added.
AWF, which has primarily worked to protect Africa’s biodiversity through concerted efforts with communities, scientists, governments, and development partners, stresses that the report says there is still time to turn things around but only if threats are taken seriously and attended to with urgency.
“People tend to pay attention—and more importantly, to act—when their own interests are involved. It’s time to pay attention. One key takeaway from the UN report is that the loss of biodiversity and species has profound ramifications for people. The other is that there is still time to make a difference through transformative change based on fundamental reorganization of values, perspectives, and priorities,” said Sebunya.
He insisted that Africa could still meet her development targets without compromising the natural environment, but only if proper policies are put in place to ensure that development is pursued sustainably.
“Pitting development against conservation is a false choice—an old school narrative. Conservation of wildlife and wild lands goes hand in hand with development, and every international, national, regional, and local development policy, incentive program, and strategic development plan should reflect this reality,” he added.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is the primary advocate for the protection of wildlife and wild lands as an essential part of a modern and prosperous Africa. Founded in 1961 to focus on Africa's unique conservation needs, we articulate a uniquely African vision, bridge science and public policy, and demonstrate the benefits of conservation to ensure the survival of the continent's wildlife and wild lands.