The U.N. released a must-read, landmark biodiversity report on Monday that you might have missed. With news of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s baby and the Met Gala dominating media in the United States, you might not have seen that about 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction due to human development. And the consequences for human life itself are profound, affecting issues like food security and clean water around the world.
According to Media Matters, major U.S. news networks neglected to report on the findings on Monday. The organization reports that, of major cable and news outlets, “three of the networks—ABC, NBC, and MSNBC—aired no prime-time coverage of it, while the other three networks each aired one prime-time segment. Out of 26 total prime-time news programs on the networks, only three reported on the U.N. assessment.”
The report was compiled from thousands of scientific studies by hundreds of experts, and was approved by the United States and 131 other countries, part of a body called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It is reported that 1,500 pages will eventually be released; on Monday, in Paris, members of the platform released a 40-page summary, and what they found is incredibly disturbing.
Among the sobering results from the report: The average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past 100 years. Human activities such as farming, logging, poaching, fishing, and mining—with the global population exceeding 7 billion—are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.” We could lose 40 percent of amphibian species, one-third of marine mammals, one-third of reef-forming corals, and more than 500,000 land species—around 1 million total. The current extinction rate is “at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.”
And global warming has been worsening the rate of loss due to human activity; roughly 5 percent of species worldwide are threatened with climate-related extinction if global average temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (We are already at 1 degree of warming.)
“If climate change were the only problem we were facing, a lot of species could probably move and adapt,” Richard Pearson, an ecologist at University College London, told The New York Times. “But when populations are already small and losing genetic diversity, when natural landscapes are already fragmented, when plants and animals can’t move to find newly suitable habitats, then we have a real threat on our hands.”
Though the loss of Earth’s natural habitats and inhabitants is tremendous, the cost to human life and survival is another concern. “For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” Robert Watson, the chair of the IPBES told the Times. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.”
What did the report offer in the way of prescriptions to combat extinction? Though that was not the point of their work, the authors made it clear that “transformative changes” were required to reform the world’s economic systems and production in order to do damage control. Initiatives to protect specific species from extinction are no longer effective. The world needs to work together to curb consumption, agricultural production, and economic activity like logging and fishing.
On the heels of the movement to adopt a resolution to create a Green New Deal in the United States, and after last year’s harrowing IPCC report on the world’s carbon emissions and rising temperatures, the biodiversity report is more than sobering. “It’s no longer enough to focus just on environmental policy,” Sandra M. Díaz, a lead author of the study and an ecologist at the National University of Córdoba, in Argentina, told the Times. “We need to build biodiversity considerations into trade and infrastructure decisions, the way that health or human rights are built into every aspect of social and economic decision-making.”