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Five Reasons Why UN Report Predicting Extinction of 1 Million Species is Terrible News for Human Survival

The report said the current rate of global species extinction is “10 to hundreds of times” higher than the average in the past 10 million years.

Aniruddha Ghosal | News18.com@aniruddhg1

Updated:May 7, 2019, 4:32 PM IST
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Five Reasons Why UN Report Predicting Extinction of 1 Million Species is Terrible News for Human Survival
Representative image.

Up to one million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, found a large-scale global assessment by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The report said the current rate of global species extinction is “10 to hundreds of times” higher than the average in the past 10 million years.

Human beings and their ancestors have been around for less than two million years. Even with global warming at just 1.5 to 2°C — the aim of signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement — most “terrestrial species ranges are projected to shrink profoundly”.

The study ranks “five direct drivers” that lead to changes in nature and have the largest impact.

In descending order they are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and “invasive alien species”.

These “negative trends” are expected to continue till 2050 and beyond in all policy scenarios unless there is a “transformative change”.

But is that bad news for human beings? The simple answer: absolutely and perhaps, irrevocably.

Here is why:

1. We need nature to survive: Nature isn’t just about wildlife and trees, but it’s the connection between ecosystems and people living within them. Humans depend on nature for food, energy and in a nutshell, survival.

For example, over two billion people rely on wood to meet their primary energy needs, an estimated four billion people rely on natural medicines for healthcare, 70% of drugs used for cancer are natural or are synthetic products inspired by nature and 75% of global food crop and important cash crops, such as coffee, rely on animal pollination. Simply put “the diversity of nature maintains humanity’s ability to choose alternatives in the face of an uncertain future.”

2. An unequal world: Nature’s contribution to people is not distributed equally. So, giving “priority to one of nature’s contributions” like food production, can result in ecological changes. For example, although food production today is sufficient to satisfy global needs, approximately 11% of the world’s population is undernourished and diet-related disease drives 20% of premature mortality, the report has found.

On the other hand, this great expansion has come at the “cost of many other contributions of nature to quality of life” like air and water quality that further exacerbates human health.

3. Ticking-time bomb: Agricultural production, fish harvest and bio-energy production has also increased. But 14 of the 18 categories of natural contribution assessed, such as soil organic carbon and pollinator diversity, had declined.

This gives a clear indication that material contributions (such as the near-threefold increase of agricultural crop value to $2.6 trillion in 2016) isn’t sustainable. Between $235 billion and $577 billion in three annual global crop output is at risk as a result of pollinator loss and the loss of coastal habitats and coral reefs increases the risk of floods and hurricanes to the 100-300 million people living along the coasts.

4. Food Security: With local varieties and breeds of domestic plants and animals disappearing, the resultant loss of genetic diversity is bad news for global food security “by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.”

By 2016, 559 of the 6,190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture (over 9%) had become extinct and at least 1,000 more are threatened and in addition, many wild crop relatives that are important for long-term food security lack effective protection, and the conservation status of wild relatives of domesticated mammals and birds is worsening, the report found.

5. Humans are triggering evolution: Human-induced change, the report said, “is creating conditions for fast biological evolution, so rapid that its effects can be seen in only a few years or even more quickly.” The consequences can be positive or negative, but can also lead to “uncertainty” about the sustainability of species, its function in the ecosystem and the delivery of nature’s contribution to people.

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