UN Report: Need for drastic action as species face extinction

Last week, a UN Committee, known as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), released its latest report, which reveals that one million of the planet’s eight million species are threatened with extinction due to human activity.

This report, scientists have described as the most comprehensive assessment of global nature loss ever.

This landmark report describes the planet [Earth] as ravaged by an ever-growing human population, whose insatiable consumption is destroying the natural world. The global rate of species extinction is “already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years”.

According to the report, there are five drivers for distinction of species: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of natural resources (at unsustainable level), climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. 

And climate change resulting from pollution contributes most highly to biodiversity loss by triggering more extreme weather events and rising sea levels and exacerbating the crisis over the coming decades.

As rightly put by Sir Robert Watson, IPBES chair, “the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever”. And this calls for ‘transformative change’ needed to salvage the planet for the benefits of humans and other living creatures.

Sadly, as times goes on, the earth’s environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. This is a wake-up call for every Government to act as steward for life on Earth.

It is our moral duty to act in concerted efforts to protect these dying species for our direct and indirect benefits. These include reforming supply chains, reducing food waste, effective fishing quotas, designating protected areas (e.g. national parks), protecting endangered and critical species, reducing the pollution that runs off from the land into the sea, among other actions.

It is noteworthy that this the first generation with the tools to see how the Earth has been changed by people at our own peril. It is equally the generation with the opportunity to influence the course of many of those changes.

Now is the time to act, not halfheartedly and incrementally but drastically and boldly.

Managing the land is the most fundamental concern. Just as with climate change, humans are the main culprits of biodiversity damage, altering 75% of Earth’s land and 66% of marine ecosystems since pre-industrial times.

The report emphasizes the disastrous impact of population growth and rising demand. It notes that the world’s population has more than doubled (from 3.7 to 7.6 billion) in the last 50 years, and gross domestic product per person is four times higher.

More than a third of the world’s land and 75% of freshwater supplies are used for crop or livestock production.

It is, however, important to note that it’s not too late to take action and make a difference. To salvage the species as well as the earth’s environment, actions must be taken now at every level from local to global. To achieve that, it will require an overhaul of economic systems and a shift in political and social mindsets.

That’s to say, the governments should implement drastic changes now to avert dire future consequences, especially related to food and climate security which are in jeopardy.

Quite obviously, biodiversity underpins ecosystem services such as pollination, flood prevention, water and air purification, and soil conservation. So, humans are in danger of losing vital ecosystem services which will have major negative consequences for human way of living.

Given that pollution remains the worst wreak havoc on Earth’s environment affecting species, and humans are manifestly responsible, therefore they must take action to turn things around.

Among actions required is expression of the political will to live up to 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees. The Paris Agreement aims to keep global warming below a 2°C increase by the end of the 21st century and pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C.

As a result, 195 countries made bottom up commitments and will submit updated climate plans called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) every five years. NDCs are at the heart of the Paris Agreement in order to achieve its long-term goals. This must lead to a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 70 to 80% by the second half of the century.

Effective implementation of the Paris Agreement would contribute to the achievement of the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: ‘Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6), Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7)’, ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG 9)’, ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11)’, and ‘Responsible Production and Consumption (SDG 12)’.

In closing, protection of wildlife species starts from the protection of their natural habitat. Perhaps the greatest threat that faces many species is the widespread destruction of habitat. As articulated above, by drawing from Scientists, the best way to protect endangered species is to protect the special places where they live.

The conservation of endangered species is important for humans as well. A well-balanced ecosystem purifies the environment, giving us clean air to breathe, a healthy water system to support diverse marine life, and arable land for agricultural production.

The writer is a law expert.