“Current assault on nature is threatening human survival - transformative change is needed” | BirdLife

“Current assault on nature is threatening human survival - transformative change is needed” | BirdLife

“Current assault on nature is threatening human survival - transformative change is needed”

Unprecedented intergovernmental scientific report joins
public outcry for urgent action on the biodiversity crisis, saying
business as usual is no longer an option.

© Sarah Cresswell

By Dr Noëlle Kümpel, Head of Policy, & Dr Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist, BirdLife

A major new global assessment provides a wake-up call to
decision-makers: we are not on track to meet universal goals for
biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Individual
successes show that we have the knowledge and tools to turn things
around, but transformative change, through stronger and sustained
political commitment, is urgently needed to safeguard and restore the
natural ecosystems on which we depend.

In the UK, the brief respite from endless Brexit discussion over the
Easter parliamentary recess coincided with an explosion in the public
conscious of something rather more important – the state of our planet
and the very survival of humanity as we know it.  In recent weeks we’ve
had daily news headlines on the Extinction Rebellion protest blocking the streets of London, Sir David Attenborough explaining the science behind climate change on prime-time television and 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg meeting
with party leaders in Parliament, all flagging the need for urgent
action to tackle the interlinked issues of climate change, biodiversity
loss and ecological collapse.

Across the world civil society has similarly mobilised: from school
children striking for the climate in 30 countries, fellow ‘rebel’
protests from South Africa to Hong Kong to Australia, and indigenous
people gathering to demand environmental protections for their
territories in Brazil.

To some, such protests have seemed an irritation or distraction from
the realities of daily life, led by a bunch of ‘tree-huggers’ intent on
disrupting ‘business as usual’.  These calls are, however, joined by
clear and compelling evidence from a systematic review of about
15,000 scientific and government sources, compiledby nearly150 expert
authors from 50 countries over three years, urging transformative change
to this failed business model. It shows that ‘business as usual’ is no
longer an option.

Following a week-long meeting in Paris, scientists and governments
have today published an unparalleled global report that finds that
nature is declining at a rate that is unprecedented in human history,
and that this is threatening our future because of our dependence on
healthy ecosystems for most of our most basic needs, including food,
water, clean air and climate control.  And here’s a key point; this is
not a report by ‘experts’ TO government, but a report endorsed and
adopted BY governments, as members of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) –
akin to the respected and highly influential Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) that informs negotiations at the UN climate
change convention.

The first Global Assessment from IPBES concludes that, from genes to
species and ecosystems, humanity’s common heritage and safety net is
declining fast. The report summarises data from IUCN and BirdLife
International showing that of the species groups that have been assessed
for the IUCN Red List,one in four species is threatened with extinction.
Extrapolating these trends across the estimated number of species in
all groups, a shocking one million species may be currently threatened
with global extinction.

Even species that are not yet threatened have suffered substantial declines in abundance, by 60% since 1970 for
vertebrate species according to one indicator. And the habitats these
species depend on are being lost: overall, 75% of the area of the
terrestrial environment and 40% of the marine environment are severely
altered by human impacts.


But apart from risking the loss of some of our most-loved, iconic species, why should we really care about biodiversity? The
loss of species and reduction in numbers of individuals is not just of
concern to academics and conservationists, but to us all. A healthy
ecosystem is one that has both variety and abundance of life, and it is
this delicate balance that delivers what are known as ‘ecosystem
services’, such as pollination, water cycling, carbon sequestration and
storage, which in turn provide us with the food, water and clean air we
need to live.  The more ‘biodiverse’ an ecosystem, the greater the
benefits and the more likely that it will be resilient to change
(including climate change) in the long term.

The IPBES report therefore highlights that the loss of biodiversity
also threatens our own survival and that of future generations, and is
just as important as the now-famous ‘1.5-degree report’ released by the
IPCC last year. Nature plays a critical role in providing food, energy,
medicines, materials, sustaining the quality of air, fresh water and
soils, regulating climate, and reducing the impact of natural hazards.
For example, over two billion people rely on wood fuel to meet their
primary energy needs. However, our assault on nature is fraying the
fabric of life and eroding our economies, livelihoods, food security,
health and quality of life worldwide: we are destroying our life-support
system. As just one example, up to 300 million people are at increased
risk of floods because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.

However, the assessment provides some encouraging news too: it’s not
too late to make a difference, but this will require ‘transformative
change’, in other words, fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across
technological, economic and social factors. The report points to the
urgent need to reform perverse incentives such as subsidies for agriculture,
forestry or fisheries that make no sense environmentally or
economically. For example, finance that promotes deforestation outpaces
that for protection by 40:1. It emphasises the need for developing
integrated management of landscapes that takes into account the
trade-offs between food and energy production, infrastructure,
freshwater and coastal management, and nature conservation.

At BirdLife International, based on our globally-recognised science, such as State of the World’s Birds,
we’ve long been advocating for recognition of the magnitude of
biodiversity declines and the seriousness of these for people and
sustainable development, including in international policy processes such
as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Ramsar Convention
on Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity. We’ve also been
developing and implementing innovative solutions to these issues. In
Indonesia, BirdLife and its Partner, Burung, developed the Ecosystem Restoration Concession concept,
which restores logged or degraded forest for climate change mitigation
and other ecosystem services as well as biodiversity conservation, and
has now been taken up nationally. Our Asia-Pacific Forest Governance project
is empowering local people in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and
Papua New Guinea to manage and protect their own forests through actions
to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
(REDD+).  And the Trillion Trees initiative aims to keep existing trees standing and restore tree cover for a trillion trees around the world by 2050. We’re working with local people around the world to safeguard a whole range of coastal and inland wetlands, drylands, grasslands, and marine ecosystems too.

A key part of the IPBES Global Assessment is its
evaluation of progress towards the goals adopted by governments: the
‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ for 2020 adopted through the Convention on
Biological Diversity, and the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030
adopted through the United Nations (co-led by BirdLife’s Chief
Scientist, Dr Stuart Butchart). The report concludes that we are
unlikely to meet most of the Aichi Targets, with good progress made
towards elements of just four of the 20 Aichi Targets. One of these
relates to increasing the coverage of protected areas, which has now
reached 15% of terrestrial and freshwater environments and 7% of the
marine realm.  However, these only partly cover areas of particular
importance for biodiversity such as Key Biodiversity Areas, and many are
not yet effectively managed. Similarly, while some species have been
brought back from the brink of extinction (contributing towards a target
on preventing extinctions), species are moving towards extinction at an
increasing rate overall for all taxonomic groups with known trends.

In general, more progress has been made in adopting and/or
implementing policy responses and actions to conserve and use nature
more sustainably than in addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss. As
a result, the state of nature overall continues to decline. Given that
nature and its contributions to people underpin the achievement of many
of the Sustainable Development Goals, either directly or indirectly, the
ongoing loss of biodiversity is hampering progress towards these goals,
including those related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities,
climate, oceans and land.

To support governments and others achieve greater progress towards
several of the goals and targets, BirdLife has been working in
partnership with other leading conservation organisations to identify
the most important sites for biodiversity globally – Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs),
as mentioned above.  These are locations that are important for
threatened or geographically restricted species or ecosystems, or for
ecological or evolutionary processes. Many governments have used
information on these sites to target expansion of their protected area
networks, but many KBAs still have no or ineffective protection and are
not adequately conserved.  KBAs should be a particular focus for
improved targets to protect and safeguard nature, as part of a wider
mission to start to restore nature by 2030 under the new global
framework for biodiversity that will be signed by governments in China
next year.

Next year, 2020, will be a critical year for both nature and climate,
with national climate action plans and the biodiversity-related
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also being updated. The post-2020
UN biodiversity framework must be transformational in mobilising a move
from ‘business as usual’ and improving synergies with the climate and
sustainable development agendas, recognising that healthy economies and
societies are underpinned by healthy natural systems. There is still
time to act, but not much, so urgent, strong and sustained political and
societal efforts are needed.

The evidence is clear; we cannot continue to run-down nature without
leaving the world in a dangerous state for future generations. With the
loss of many of our most treasured ecosystems and species, our wonderful
planet would be surely a less joyful as well as less liveable place.

Birdlife’s role in developing and translating the science behind the report

BirdLife’s data have underpinned many aspects of the report, from
our assessments of the extinction risk of the world’s birds and trends
in these (tracked by the Red List Index), to our identification of the
most important sites worldwide for nature (Important Bird and
Biodiversity Areas, and other Key Biodiversity Areas) and progress in
conserving these.

One of the Coordinating Lead Authors of the Global Assessment is
BirdLife International’s Chief Scientist, Dr Stuart Butchart, who co-led
Chapter 3, which assesses progress towards the goals and objectives of
various intergovernmental agreements. These include the Aichi Targets of
the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted through the
Convention on Biological Diversity, the Sustainable Development Goals,
and a range of other biodiversity-relevant agreements, including the
Convention on Migratory Species, the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and
the World Heritage Convention.

Quotes for press:

Dr Noëlle Kümpel, BirdLife’s Head of Policy, says:

“In recent weeks, the news headlines have been full with the
likes of Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough calling for urgent
action to tackle the interlinked issues of climate change, biodiversity
loss and ecological collapse.  Riding this wave of public awareness
comes this unprecedented global report, not just by ‘experts’ such as
BirdLife but from the 130 government members of IPBES, providing
irrefutable evidence that we are losing biodiversity and natural
ecosystems at a rate that threatens our very survival.  But there is
still time to turn this around; we’re working with national partners
around the world to save sites and species and to get much better
recognition of the role of nature in sustainable development, so that
governments agree and critically implement a truly transformational
UN-wide plan for biodiversity in China next year.”

Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Chief Scientist and co-lead author of Chapter 3 of the report, says:

"From genes to species and ecosystems, nature is declining faster
than at any time in human history. This threatens our survival because
healthy ecosystems underpin our societies, from regulating our climate
to pollinating our crops. We are eroding our economies, livelihoods,
food security, health and quality of life worldwide through this
destruction of our life-support system. Fortunately we still have time
to turn these trends around, but it will take transformative changes,
from reforming perverse subsidies to integrated management of the
oceans. The negotiations were tortuous at times, but word by word,
sentence by sentence, governments adopted text that spells out how the
current assault on nature is threatening human survival, and that only
by making these transformative changes can we turn this around.”