Biodiversity loss “as serious as climate change”

Giant steps and radical transformations in global food production and human activities in general, which are pulverising resources, ecosystems and species, will be needed if these destructive trends are to be reversed – and time is short.

This is the warning issued by some 400 scientists in the most comprehensive and up-to-date report on biodiversity in the last 15 years, the final version of which will be unveiled in Paris on Monday 6 May.

The report, which was drawn up over the last three years, was discussed this week in the French capital as part of a United Nations meeting with delegates from more than 130 countries. In a not yet finalised version, to which AFP has had access, you can read these warnings, which leave no doubt about the unprecedented environmental problems facing humanity.

Some of the figures mentioned in this first version of the report help to put the problem into perspective and give a measure of the urgency of concerted and effective action to be taken by political decision-makers worldwide.

Our destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems has reached levels that threaten the well-being of humanity

The figures: around one million of all the planet’s species face extinction, many of them within a few decades; with the exception of a very small part (7 per cent), all the world’s major fishing stocks are in decline due to over-exploitation, and if we talk about forests, three million hectares (2.9 million) have been lost since 1990 – in the last three decades – in an area the size of Germany or Vietnam.

The report, which was prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (IPBES) – the equivalent of the IPPC for climate change, also within the United Nations – does not set out political recommendations (at least in this first version). But the final version of the document will be the reference for the next COP of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, to be held in China next year.

That summit, in 2020, will be the key moment for defining international policies in this area for the next decade.
Next decade is decisive

At the opening of the meeting taking place in Paris, Robert Watson, the president of IPBES, did not mince his words about the current state of environmental calamity. “The evidence is incontrovertible: our destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems has reached levels that threaten the well-being of humanity at least as much as human-induced climate change.”

Warning of what is at stake, Robert Watson emphasised that biodiversity “is not something abstract”. It “concerns every animal or plant species that lives on the planet, including the one that endangers itself by destroying nature: humanity. And man cannot live without nature, which provides him with services of incalculable value, from pollinating insects to forests and oceans that absorb CO2, to medicines and drinking water.”

The current situation mirrors the failure of the targets set for this decade under the convention itself. Virtually none of the 20 goals previously set for 2020, which aim for life “in harmony with nature” by 2050, will be achieved. This is stated in the first draft of the report, the final version of which is being eagerly awaited.

Many see the document as the possibility of a turning point in global environmental policies. That’s exactly what the president of IPBES himself said, in black and white, at the opening of the Paris meeting. “Many hope that this assessment will be the prelude to the adoption of ambitious targets at the 2020 meeting in China of the member states of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.”

The coincidence of the meeting taking place in the same European capital as the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 is seen as a good omen for similar progress on biodiversity. It remains to be seen to what extent the warnings will be heeded.