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‘Unprecedented’ declines in wildlife and natural habitats are set to continue, UN report warns

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Humanity is presiding over ‘unprecedented’ losses to nature and is not doing enough to prevent destruction of the world’s ecosystems, a landmark report claims. 

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report, published by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reveals the world has failed to meet a series of key targets set a decade ago to save the world’s biodiversity.  

In 2010, a total of 20 ‘Aichi Targets’ were developed and hailed as the blueprint for saving life on Earth.

This latest report reveals that none of these were fully met, with only six being classed as ‘partially achieved’. 

Professor Jane Memmott, who is president of the British Ecological Society and was not involved in the report, says: ‘The crisis in nature is such that we need to act now. 

‘We are dependent on the natural world for our food, wellbeing and prosperity and the current rate of loss of species is seriously worrying.’

Ongoing conservation efforts have also saved some species from extinction, which would otherwise have been consigned to the history books, such as the black footed ferret. Pictured here by the National Geographic PhotoArk

Ongoing conservation efforts have also saved some species from extinction, which would otherwise have been consigned to the history books, such as the black footed ferret. Pictured here by the National Geographic PhotoArk 

This graphic shows how countries who signed up to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are doing in the quest to accomplish them. The colours show the percentage of parties that are on track to exceed (blue), to reach (green), making progress but not fast enough (yellow), no change (red) and negative progress (purple) the 20 goals

This graphic shows how countries who signed up to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are doing in the quest to accomplish them. The colours show the percentage of parties that are on track to exceed (blue), to reach (green), making progress but not fast enough (yellow), no change (red) and negative progress (purple) the 20 goals

Key numbers from the report 

$500 billion – Value of government subsidies that potentially cause environmental harm,

1.7 – Number of ‘Earths’ needed to regenerate the biological resources used by humanity from 2011 to 2016

33% – Reduction in global deforestation rates comparing the last five years with rates in the decade to 2010.

260,000 tonnes – Weight of the estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the world’s oceans 

60%+ – Proportion of world’s coral reefs under threat, especially due to overfishing and destructive fishing 

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The report acts as a global score card for the 20 ‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ agreed in 2010, which were designed to provide a comprehensive set of goals encompassing all aspects of conservation.

The targets included cutting rates of habitat loss, managing fish stocks sustainably and preventing harmful pollution, among others. 

None of the targets will be fully met by this year’s deadline, and only six will be partially achieved, the report warns.

The UN report does not provide a breakdown by nation, but according to conservation charity the RSPB, the UK has been spectacular in its negligence. 

It estimates Britain has has failed to meet most of the Aichi targets, including ensuring the protection of areas that look after wildlife, reversing species’ slide towards extinction and funding nature.

The UK Government claims it has hit a third of its targets, but RSPB analysis shows the UK may have met as few as just three of the 20 international targets it agreed to a decade ago, and in six areas the UK has actually gone backwards.   

Despite the sorry state of affairs and the poor collective effort to reach these targets, which were created to ensure the long-term viability of the world’s biodiversity as well as our own species, there are some signs of progress, the report reveals. 

Professor Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of Reading, said: ‘The report shows progress in some areas, for example in the extent of protected areas.

‘Many of the easier solutions have already been made, however, and we now need to tackle the tougher challenges.’

One of the successful changes which has been achieved is a fall in the rate at which forests are being destroyed. Other positives include the improved identification and eradication of invasive species which threaten native wildlife.

Ongoing conservation efforts have also saved some species from extinction, which would otherwise have been consigned to the history books. 

For example, New Zealand’s black stilts, the Javan rhinoceroses and black-footed ferrets have all been saved from oblivion in the last decade.  

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive director of the CBD, said: ‘Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged.

‘Nevertheless, the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.

‘And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.’ 

Pictured, a National Geographic PhotoArk image of two red wolves, which is one of the species saved from extinction due to conservation programmes

Pictured, a National Geographic PhotoArk image of two red wolves, which is one of the species saved from extinction due to conservation programmes 

Transitions in eight aspects of human activity, could still allow the planet's biodiversity to be saved. Pictured, the eight listed 'transformative changes' and how they are linked

Transitions in eight aspects of human activity, could still allow the planet’s biodiversity to be saved. Pictured, the eight listed ‘transformative changes’ and how they are linked 

In 13 of 60 total areas outlined in 2010, no progress has been made, and for some the situation has worsened.   

For example, wetland declines have worsened, damage from fishing is increasing and more species — around a million — are now threatened with extinction. 

A shocking statistic from the report is that approximately $500 billion (£390 million) of funding is provided every year in government subsidies for projects which have an undisputed negative impact on nature. 

A fifth of this is dedicated to unsustainable agricultural practices.    

Ms Mrema adds: ‘As nature degrades, new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus.

‘The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.’

Report card on the 20 Aichi Targets

  1. Make people aware if values of biodiversity and how they can help conserve it 
  2. Integrate biodiversity values into national and local poverty reduction plans 
  3. Eliminate harmful Government subsidies 
  4. Widespread implementation of plans for sustainable production and consumption 
  5. Rate of loss of all natural habitats is at least halved 
  6.  fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably
  7. Agriculture, aquaculture and forestry areas are managed sustainably
  8.  Pollution at levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity
  9. Identify and control/eradicate invasive species 
  10. Anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs minimised by 2015
  11. Conserve marine ecosystems
  12. Extinction of known threatened species has been prevented 
  13. Genetic diversity of plants is maintained 
  14. Ecosystems that provide essential services are safeguarded and restored
  15. Ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced
  16.  By 2015, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is in force
  17. By 2015 each Party has an effective national biodiversity strategy and action plan
  18. Respect the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities 
  19. Improve knowledge of science and technology pertaining to biodiversity 
  20. Mobilization of financial resources for effectively implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020

FAILED 

 

FAILED     

 

FAILED 

 

FAILED 

FAILED 

 

FAILED

 

FAILED

 

FAILED

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED   

FAILED FOR 2015 DEADLINE, FAILED BY 2020 AS WELL 

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

FAILED 

FAILED 

FAILED

 

FAILED

 

 

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

 

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

 

FAILED

 

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

 

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

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While the report warns changes are urgently needed to ensure human wellbeing and save the planet, it offers a glimmer of hope. 

It outlines eight transformative changes which are needed to slow, and eventually halt, the demise of nature. 

These include a shift to sustainable farming, mostly ‘plant-based diets’ and more moderate meat consumption.  

The report also warns that more efforts are needed to conserve and restore forests and other wild areas and to tackle climate change.

Professor John Spicer, Professor of Marine Zoology at Plymouth University, said: ‘The report’s recommended eight transitions away from ‘business as usual’ contain much that is familiar. 

‘However, they feel new and now maybe even possible. The UN report shows that though the successes of the last 10 years are limited, they are possible. 

‘Change is possible. One of the new elements in the UN report is that Covid-19 has demonstrated our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of the biodiversity we need just to survive. 

‘The present context transforms what this document would have looked like if it had been published at the beginning of 2020. 

‘What now comes across strongly is when we damage biodiversity we damage ourselves – but there is a way out.’

Countries will now meet and set new targets with a deadline of 2030, which have the explicit goal of ‘living in harmony with nature’ by 2050.  

According to the experts compiling this watershed piece of research, climate change will become the biggest driver of nature losses after 2050.   

With Covid-19 forcing people to rethink how they choose to live their lives, the report states conserving forests is essential if future pandemics are to be avoided. 

This, it says, will prevent diseases from spilling over from their animal hosts and into the ever-expanding human population. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus outbreak is a ‘shocking demonstration’ of the link between people’s treatment of the natural world and the emergence of human disease. 

The warning comes on the heels of conservation charity WWF’s latest Living Planet report, which revealed that global wildlife populations have declined by 68 per cent in less than 50 years. 

Eight transitions needed to restore world’s ecosystems

  1. The land and forests transition: conserving intact ecosystems, restoring ecosystems, combatting and reversing degradation, and employing landscape level spatial planning to avoid, reduce and mitigate land-use change.
  2. The sustainable agriculture transition: redesigning agricultural systems through agroecological and other innovative approaches to enhance productivity while minimizing negative impacts on biodiversity.
  3. The sustainable food systems transition: enabling sustainable and healthy diets with a greater emphasis on a diversity of foods, mostly plant-based, and more moderate consumption of meat and fish, as well as dramatic cuts in the waste involved in food supply and consumption.
  4. The sustainable fisheries and oceans transition: protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, rebuilding fisheries and managing aquaculture and other uses of the oceans to ensure sustainability, and to enhance food security and livelihoods.
  5. The cities and infrastructure transition: deploying ‘green infrastructure’ and making space for nature within built landscapes to improve the health and quality of life for citizens and to reduce the environmental footprint of cities and infrastructure.
  6. The sustainable freshwater transition: an integrated approach guaranteeing the water flows required by nature and people, improving water quality, protecting critical habitats, controlling invasive species and safeguarding connectivity to allow the recovery of freshwater systems from mountains to coasts.
  7. The sustainable climate action transition: employing nature-based solutions, alongside a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, to reduce the scale and impacts of climate change, while providing positive benefits for biodiversity and other sustainable development goals.
  8. The biodiversity-inclusive One Health transition managing ecosystems, including agricultural and urban ecosystems, as well as the use of wildlife, through an integrated approach, to promote healthy ecosystems and healthy people.
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