One million species

The UN has a warning:

THE BONDS THAT hold nature together may be at risk of unraveling from deforestation, overfishing, development, and other human activities, a landmark United Nations report warns. Thanks to human pressures, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, with serious consequences for human beings as well as the rest of life on Earth.

“The evidence is crystal clear: Nature is in trouble. Therefore we are in trouble,” said Sandra Díaz, one of the co-chairs of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. A 40-page “Summary for Policy Makers” of the forthcoming full report (expected to exceed 1,500 pages) was released May 6 in Paris.

Based on a review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources and compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the global report is the first comprehensive look in 15 years at the state of the planet’s biodiversity. This report includes, for the first time, indigenous and local knowledge as well as scientific studies. The authors say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestationoverfishingbush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It’s easy to jump over “land conversion” because it sounds kind of bland, but it must cover agriculture, mining, urbanization, road building, and on and on. It’s conversion of what used to be habitat for many kinds of animals and insects to habitat for this one bipedal species. I wonder why loss or degradation of water isn’t one of the major drivers, but maybe it’s subsumed under land conversion.

Protecting nature and saving species is all about securing the land and water plants and animals need to survive, said Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist of the National Geographic Society. Protecting half of the planet by 2050, with an interim target of 30 percent by 2030, is the only way to meet the Paris climate targets or achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for the world, Baillie said.

Forests, oceans, and other parts of nature soak up 60 percent of global fossil fuel emissions every year, the report found. “We need to secure the biosphere to protect the climate and help buffer us from extreme weather events,” Baillie said.

Coral reefs and mangroves protect coastal areas from storms such as hurricanes. Wetlands reduce flooding by absorbing heavy rainfall. Yet each of these ecosystems has declined dramatically, with wetlands down to less than 15 percent of what they were 300 years ago and coral reefs facing a global bleaching crisis.

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