Development and life in general under threat from accelerating destruction of nature – but solutions are possible

On 6 May, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its first global report on biodiversity since 2005. Prepared by 150 leading experts from 50 countries, it confirms that nature is being destroyed faster than at any other time in human history. A million more species will become extinct within decades.

News, 06 May 2019
Mangrove reforestation project

Mangrove reforestation offers vital protection from against storms and rising seas (Photo: Mike Shanahan/IIED)

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services' report on the global state of biodiversity is shocking but not entirely surprising. Despite years of repeated warnings, the question is, how much more evidence will it take for governments, companies and financial institutions to wake up to the urgency and act?

The destruction of nature and climate change are the twin emergencies threatening humanity today. 

The evidence is staggering. According to the report, it is certain that up to one million species are threatened with extinction – more than at any other time in our history. Human beings have now significantly altered nature across most of the globe: 75% of land, 50% of streams and 40% of oceans and seas. And with new areas such as the high seas and Arctic increasingly accessible due to technological developments and climate change, this is likely to increase if effective action is not taken. 

For the first time, it ranks the key drivers of this (in decreasing order) as: "changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution and invasive alien species". 

Humanity is increasingly dependent on the rich diversity of nature for its survival. But our actions are simultaneously undermining the complex nature on which our lives and livelihoods depend at an unprecedented rate.

"Radical, comprehensive changes are urgently needed to save the diversity of life on which we all depend. Crucially, governments must end the destructive subsidies, including for fossil fuels and industrial fishing and agriculture," said IIED director Andrew Norton. "These drive the plundering of the land and ocean at the expense of a clean, healthy and diverse environment on which billions of women, children and men depend, now and in the future."

Importantly, the report highlights indigenous peoples and local communities' key role in working with nature. Despite biodiversity declining in their areas due to increasing pressure from extractive industries, infrastructure development and agriculture, it is declining more slowly.

"It is imperative that greater attention is given to strengthening indigenous and local communities' rights to manage their land and resources sustainably and to resist external development pressure unless it is in their own interests," Norton said. "They must be able to play an active part in all efforts to conserve biodiversity, while their right to use nature is protected."

There is no more time for inaction or delay – the report's findings are loud and clear.

People who are living in poverty are being disproportionately hit by the destruction of nature. The report finds that the rate of change has accelerated faster in the past 50 years than at any other time in human history.

"It is crucial the progress that has been made in development is not undone by the interconnected crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. The contribution that diverse nature and natural ecological systems make to development – for both rich and poor – needs to be included in the economic decisions made by governments and business. Without this, development and life in general cannot be sustainable," Norton said.