Human activities have put as many as one million other species at risk of extinction, according to the first comprehensive United Nations report on global biodiversity. The report, a summary of which was released on Monday, emphasizes humanity’s devastating impact on the natural world, which is accelerating extinctions at an unprecedented rate in human history.
People have altered or destroyed three-quarters of land environments, two-thirds of marine habitats, and 85% of the most important wetland regions. This leaves few areas unaffected by human activities such as agriculture, commercial fishing, industrial pollution, and urbanization, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the environmental effect of these activities—human-driven climate change—has disrupted the habitats of 47% of flightless land mammals and 23% of threatened birds. Ecosystems that are particularly sensitive to warmer temperatures, such as coral reefs, could be virtually wiped out worldwide over the coming decades.
This ongoing extinction event is an obvious tragedy for the lush variety of life on Earth. But it is also an ominous trend for human civilization, which depends heavily on global biodiversity for sustenance and survival.
”The loss of species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being,” Sir Robert Watson, a leading atmospheric scientist who led the report, said in a statement.
“Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come,” Watson added.
Produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the report exceeds 1,500 pages and compiles findings from 15,000 scientific and international government studies.
The full report will be released later this year. In the meantime, a summary of the conclusion was approved by representatives of 109 nations at an IPBES Plenary meeting that took place last week in Paris, France.
In addition to input from more than 450 researchers, the report incorporates valuable perspectives from Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
“Recognition of the knowledge, innovations and practices, institutions, and values of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their inclusion and participation in environmental governance often enhances their quality of life, as well as nature conservation, restoration, and sustainable use,” the summary said.
While the results of the report are harrowing, the IPBES team laid out possible solutions to mitigate the rapid loss of species and livelihoods worldwide, such as curbing greenhouse gas emissions, designing better waste disposal systems, and switching to more environmentally friendly diets.
“We have already seen the first stirrings of actions and initiatives for transformative change, such as innovative policies by many countries, local authorities, and businesses, but especially by young people worldwide,” said Watson.
Youth movements, such as the Extinction Rebellion or the recent school strikes protesting climate change inaction, have helped raise awareness of the colossal environmental problems caused by humans, and the threat they pose to future generations.