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The planet had a health check this month - and the results aren’t good.

You may have noticed some of the headlines earlier this month around biodiversity - if not, fear not. We’ve condensed down some of the main points of the UN’s recent report so you don’t have to. We don’t like to shy away from the difficult topics here at HARA. So deep breath, here goes.

Earlier this month, the UN released the biodiversity equivalent of the IPCC Climate Change report (we talked about that a few months back, here’s a refresh). Similar in approach, the IPBES’ (short for Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) 145 authors reviewed 15, 000 research papers and is described as “the most thorough, most detailed and most extensive planetary health check.” By David Obura, one of the main authors.

Obura goes on to say: “The take-home message is that we should have gone to the doctor sooner. We are in a bad way. The society we would like our children and grandchildren to live in is in real jeopardy. I cannot overstate it. If we leave it to later generations to clear up the mess, I don’t think they will forgive us.”

Yep - you guessed it. This is another hard-hitting report from mainstream science.

Wait, remind me what biodiversity is again?

BBC journalist, Matt McGrath, keeps it nice and simple for us: “Biodiversity is just a sciencey word for all the amazing variety of life that can be found on Earth, their interactions with each other and with their environments.”

“It encompasses everything from genes, through individual species such as orang-utans, through communities of creatures and then the whole ecological complexes of which they are part”

It’s a mash of ‘biological’ and ‘diversity’.

Remember, that this doesn’t always include how many of each species there is, that’s called species abundance.

Anyway back to the report.

What’s it saying?

In summary: Our rate of consumption as a species is an existential threat to the rest of life on Earth and impacts our very survival.



In a bit more detail: Species extinction is accelerating; out of the 7 million species we know about, 1 million of them are at threat of extinction, “many in the next decades.” This is also now known as the Sixth Mass Extinction.

4 key takeaways from the report:

1. A million species are at risk of extinction.

Of the 1 million at risk that  includes “40 percent of all amphibian species, 33 percent of corals, and around 10 percent of insects” reports Vox

We are also losing forest cover at an alarming rate: “more than 3.6m hectares of pristine tropical forest was lost in 2018”

 

And what does losing a species really mean? The Vox’ Brian Resnick sums it up, “Each species’ genetic code is like the sheet music of a symphony, each letter of its DNA a musical note, written, rewritten, edited, and reshaped over millions of years. Losing these species is like losing a great work of art, or a tremendous library. The death of a species is the death of a tremendous amount of natural history. Nature is a slow author; humans kill with vicious efficiency.”

2. Humans are to blame.

The report identifies 5 main areas but “the presence of humanity looms over them all.”

The report contains jaw-dropping numbers: “¾ of all land is now farm fields, covered by concrete, swallowed up by dam reservoirs or otherwise significantly altered. Two-thirds of the marine environment has also been changed by fish farms, shipping routes, subsea mines and other projects. Three-quarters of rivers and lakes are used for crop or livestock cultivation. “

We are living beyond our means. 

Back in 1970 we almost lived within the Earth’s carrying capacity; today we are in serious overshoot, using the equivalent of 1.7 Earth’s resources per year.

“Our species now extracts 60bn tons of resources each year, almost double the amount in 1980, though the world population has grown by only 66% in that time.” Reports The Guardian

You can calculate your personal overshoot day here.

“We have all assumed that nature would always be here for us and our children. However, our boundless consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature now seriously threaten our future.

Environmentalists, scientists and indigenous peoples have been sounding the alarm for decades.”

Says Robert Watson

In fact, when it comes to indigenous peoples, they have been saving more than their fair share of our planet’s biodiversity.

Indigenous peoples’ land protects 80% of the world’s biodiversity found a 2014 World Bank study.

One way to protect our biodiversity is to protect our forest guardians, who are often under threat from land grabbers and large corporations. Often they are criminalised for protecting the land and on average one environment defender is killed every week. 

UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Rights adds,

“It’s no mystery why indigenous groups are so adept at protecting biodiversity. For generations, we have accumulated intimate and detailed knowledge of the specific ecosystems where we live. We know every aspect of the plant and animal life, from mountain-tops to ocean floors.

This consistent, all-encompassing approach to biodiversity protection is the reason why indigenous peoples live in areas with the richest biodiversity and least damaged ecosystems.”

3. You cannot separate the climate crisis from the ecological crisis.

The climate science focuses on increasing global average temperatures due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. But like all things, they are interlinked with our ecosystem.

As we lose more ice from the Arctic due to rising temperatures, more of the sun’s heat is absorbed as the ice is now dark sea, and in turn this raises the temperature even more. This is called the Albedo Effect and is an example of a feedback loop.

Our trees and forests act as a huge carbon sink (i.e. they suck carbon out of the atmosphere) but they also are home to vast amounts of biodiversity, not to mention the billion+ people who depend on forests for their livelihoods. As global temperatures increase, the Amazon rainforest can flip from absorbing carbon to emitting carbon as the risk of forest fires increases.

4. We have to act now.

Authors of the IPBES report have said; “The situation is tricky and difficult but I would never give up. The report shows there is a way out. I believe we can still bend the curve.

“People shouldn’t panic, but they should begin drastic change. Business as usual with small adjustments won’t be enough.”

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