A hard-hitting report into the impact of humans on nature shows that nearly one million species risk becoming extinct within decades, while current efforts to conserve the earth’s resources will likely fail without radical action, UN biodiversity experts said on Monday.
Speaking in Paris at the launch of the Global Assessment study – the first such report since 2005 – UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said that its findings put the world "on notice".
"Following the adoption of this historic report, no one will be able to claim that they did not know," the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said.
"We can no longer continue to destroy the diversity of life. This is our responsibility towards future generations."
Highlighting the universal importance of biodiversity – the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – Azoulay said that protecting it "is as vital as fighting climate change".
Presented to more than 130 government delegations for their approval at UNESCO headquarters, the report features the work of 400 experts from at least 50 countries, coordinated by the Bonn-based Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
In addition to providing exhaustive insights on the state of nature, ecosystems and how nature underpins all human activity, the study also discusses progress on key international goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The report also examines five main drivers of "unprecedented" biodiversity and ecosystem change over the past 50 years, identifying them as: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change, pollution, and invasion of alien species.
On at-risk fauna and flora, the study asserts that human activities "threaten more species now than ever before" – a finding based on the fact that around 25 per cent of species in plant and animal groups are vulnerable.
This suggests that around one million species "already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss".
Without such measures there will be a "further acceleration" in the global rate of species extinction, which is already "at least tens to hundreds of times higher, than it has averaged over the past 10 million years", the report states.
It notes that despite many local efforts, including by indigenous peoples and local communities, by 2016, 559 of the 6,190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture were extinct – around nine percent of the total - and at least 1,000 more are threatened.
On the issue of pollution, although global trends are mixed, air, water and soil pollution have continued to increase in some areas, the report insists. "Marine plastic pollution in particular has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species", it says, including 86 percent of marine turtles, 44 percent of seabirds and 43 percent of marine mammals.