9 Things We Learned From The UN Report Showing 1 Million Species Are Near Extinction

by Morgan Brinlee
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A new report from the United Nations has found overwhelming evidence that paints an ominous picture of biodiversity in the natural world. According to a soon-to-be released report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), nature is declining around the globe at unprecedented rates while the rate of species threatened by extinction accelerates. Indeed, there's a number of frightening details in the United Nation's latest biodiversity report.

"Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history," IPBES said in a media release previewing a summary of the committee's report.

Compiled over the course of three years by 145 experts hailing from 50 countries, the report seeks to outline and assess how the natural world has changed over the last five decades in order to better understand how humans and economic development has impacted nature. Unfortunately, the news isn't good.

"Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing," Prof. Josef Settele of Germany said in a statement released by IPBES. "The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed."

And according to IPBES, this decline in nature isn't happening all on its own — it's a result of humans. "This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world," Settele said. IPBES' full six-chapter report is expected to be published later this year.

Here are nine things we learned from the United Nation's forthcoming report on biodiversity:

Nature Is Declining At Rates We've Never Seen Before

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According to the report, nature across the globe is declining at unprecedented rates. "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever," IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson said in a press release. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."

The Top 5 Drivers Of Change In Nature

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Researchers listed the top five drivers of change in nature, from greatest impact to least, as being: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasion of alien species.

1 Million Animal & Plant Species Are At Risk Of Going Extinct

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IPBES researchers found that human actions have now threatened more species with global extinction than ever before. "An average of around 25 percent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss," researchers said in a summary of the report made available to policymakers and the press.

Without action, researchers said we can expect the global rate of species extinction, which is already "at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years," to accelerate even further.

Human Actions Have Significantly Altered The Land & Water

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Researchers said human actions have significantly altered 75% of the world's land-based environment and roughly 66% of its marine environment. Such actions include increased consumption, the expansion of agricultural use areas, and the growth of urban areas, to name only a few.

For example, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost from 1980 to 2000 mainly as a result of cattle ranching in Latin America and plantations in Southeast Asia. But researchers behind the IPBES report said that, on average, such trends of alteration "have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities."

Crops & Livestock Take Significant Land & Freshwater Resources

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According to the report, more than one third of the world's total land surface and nearly three-fourths of its freshwater resources are now devoted to the production and care of crops and livestock.

Pollution Is A Serious Problem

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Researchers found that marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980 and now impacts at least 267 species, including marine turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. But, thanks to food chains, marine plastic pollution can impact humans as well, researchers said.

Fertilizer pollution has also resulted in more than 400 ocean "dead zones" due to fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems, according to researchers. Those ocean "dead zones" add up to a combined area larger than that of the United Kingdom.

Long-Distance Travel Has Negative Consequences For Nature

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The long-distance transportation of both goods and people, including travel for tourism, has been shown to have negative consequences for nature, according to IPBES. Researchers said an uptick in transportation by air and sea has not only led to an increase in pollution but has also significantly raised the number of invasive alien species. Researchers also found that the carbon footprint produced by tourism rose 40% from 2009 to 2013 alone. They claimed 8% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions are a result of transport and food consumption related to tourism.

Indigenous People & Poor Communities Will Be Disproportionately Impacted

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Researchers found that Indigenous people and many of the world's poorest communities would likely be disproportionately impacted by the significant negative effects that stem from changes in climate, biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and nature's contributions. "Because of their strong dependency on nature and its contributions for subsistence, livelihoods and health, those communities will be disproportionately hard hit by those negative changes," a summary of the report noted.

It's Not Too Late To Make A Difference

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While much of the IPBES' biodiversity report is grim, researchers have said it's not too late to make a difference. However, in order to truly have an impact, the report noted that change must happen immediately and at every level of society from local to global.

"Through 'transformative change' nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably," Watson said. "By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values."