Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Teeming Planet Is Teeming Ever Lesser

Image result for endangered animalsEnvironmental & Science Education 
Edward Hessler

If one were to think of global climate change as one side of a coin what would be on the other face of the coin?  My candidate would be biological diversity.  And like a coin the two faces are intimately combined and interacting. 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem (IPBES) is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society. The 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, met April 29 to May 4 in Paris.

The report, stunning in its implications, tells us that "Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history."  Here are some of the findings.
  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totaling more than 245,000 km2 (​~95000 mi2​) - a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.
​The numbers found in the report are overwhelming at times, more than one can comprehend or grasp. They are found in a long listing in the media release, broken into categories (General, Species, populations, and varieties of plans and animals, Food and Agriculture, Oceans and Fisheries, Forests, Mining and energy, Health, Climate change, and Global goals.​

We've heard the warning words/phrases before: 'unprecedented', extinction rates 'accelerating', current responses are insufficient, 'transformative changes' are needed. This time though these words/phrases are used about an incredibly comprehensive report--145 expert authors, 50 countries represented, input from 310 experts, and the time frame: changes are assessed over 5 decades. In any event, 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction. Whether action will follow is another thing (see below).

One thing I've not mentioned but which is clear from the report demands emphasis: humanity depends on nature and its services.

Currently the IPBES includes 132 member nations. And yes the U.S. belongs, something I no longer take for granted.

The media release is found here. It is comprehensive, i.e., not a one-pager with links.. Below are links to four short videos.

IPBES Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration 2018

IPBES Regional Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2018

IPBES Assessment of Pollinators and Food Production 2016

IPBES Assessment of Scenarios and Models of Biodiversity 2016

The BBC announced the report with a short video. Take a peek.  The BBC also prepared  a short report of five things learned from this study of nature in crisis. The most important one for me was "Boy, are we in trouble."
Image result for ipcc

Is there any political progress toward doing something now or in the future? Matt McGrath, writing for the BBC, notes a similarity between the IPBES report and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the first "will inform the talks on a 'new deal for nature and people' (China 2020), the second informed the 2015 Paris agreement on global warming."  

However, McGrath notes the difficulty ahead. "If a new global deal on nature is to be struck, then it will need the participation of heads of state. Right now, despite the evidence from the IPBES report, that seems a very big ask." (my emphasis)


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