Human activity will drive more than 1 million species of animals and plants (out of an estimated total of 8 million) into extinction, most within decades, according to a new United Nations-backed report. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the most comprehensive environmental report of its kind compiled over the course of three years by 145 authors from 50 countries. In it, experts ranked the five leading causes for the loss of biodiversity: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution; and (5) invasive alien species. To explain the largest culprit, IPBES revealed that more than one-third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75 percent of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production. IPBES identified that approximately 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by land clearing, crop production, and fertilization, with animal-based food contributing 75 percent to that figure. More than 55 percent of the world’s oceans are ravaged by industrial fishing with 33 percent of marine stocks harvested at unsustainable levels. “The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson said. “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 report found that Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020—climate-change goals set during the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010—would all be missed unless more aggressive plans are made. “Through ‘transformative change,’ nature can still be conserved, restored, and used sustainably—this is also key to meeting most other global goals,” Watson said. “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values. The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good.” Global conservation leaders will meet at the UN Biodiversity Conference in China in 2020 and use the IPBES report as a tool to discuss pathways toward a sustainable future.

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