A comprehensive new United Nations report outlines humanity's devastating effects on biodiversity and what that means for the future of all life on Earth

By Maria Pasquini
May 06, 2019 04:05 PM
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Countless plant and animal species are currently at risk of extinction largely due to the ways humans have transformed the Earth’s ecosystems, according to a comprehensive new report — and the rate of extinction is accelerating.

A new United Nations report, which is the most comprehensive ever compiled, states that around the world, our ecosystem is declining at an “unprecedented” rate. As a result, 1 million out of the Earth’s estimated 8 million species of animals and plants are currently at risk of extinction — many within just decades.

Since 1900, the average amount of native species in the majority of land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20 percent, according to the report.

Those threatened include over 40 percent of amphibian species as well as more than a third of all marine mammals. An estimated 10 percent of insects are also at risk.

The study went on to note that since the 1600s, at least 680 vertebrate species have gone extinct. Additionally, over 9 percent “of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.”

The report was compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services ( IPBES), and was put together over the past three years by 145 experts from over 50 countries.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said one of the report’s co-chairs, Prof. Josef Settele.

“This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world,” he added.

The report went on to rank the “five direct drivers of change in nature,” including changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change — the impacts of which are only expected to increase in the future — and pollution.

Additionally, the report stated that the “current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems” will undermine about 80 percent of global goals related to “poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.”

IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson also remarked that the report “presents an ominous picture” of the future.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security health and quality of life worldwide,” he added.

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In order to reverse the “negative trends,” extreme measures will need to be undertaken.

“It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” remarked IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson.

“Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably — this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values,” he continued.

Responding to the report, Greenpeace Germany forests and climate campaigner Dr. Christoph Thies released a statement, calling the findings a “devastating reality check.”

“Governments must start putting people and planet ahead of corporate interests and greed and act with the urgency this report demands. Leaders must adopt strong targets and implementation plans to protect biodiversity,” he remarked. “Profiteering has pushed nature to the brink, placing our own survival in peril due to overexploitation of the natural world and worsening climate change.”

David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery, is ready to help inspire and take part in the change the world needs to divert us from the disastrous course the report predicts.

“For nearly 35 years Discovery has had cameras in every corner of the globe, documenting our planet. Unfortunately, our cameras also have captured the fragile state of much of the world and its animals, seeing on the ground what the UN report concludes. Every generation faces pivotal challenges. Protecting the planet and the remaining species on it, is ours.” Zaslav said in a statement to PEOPLE. “Saving endangered wildlife and protecting the planet’s biodiversity is one issue that – despite partisan divides, government regimes or cultural differences – can and should unite us all.”