UPSC MAINS 2019 : One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns

One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns

Topic : One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns

Topic in Syllabus : General Studies 3: Ecology & Environment



One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).


Key findings from the report:

  • The report paints an alarming picture of species extinctions, wildlife population declines, habitat loss and depletion of ecosystem services − adding to the existing wealth of evidence that we are degrading our global commons at a dramatic and unsustainable rate.
  • The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.
  • The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.
  • More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.
  • The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.
  • At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% 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.
  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.


Important aspects of the Global Assessment:

Building upon earlier IPBES assessment reports, especially the recently-released Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment and the Regional Assessment Reports for Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe and Central Asia (March, 2018), the Global Assessment:

  • Covers all land-based ecosystems (except Antarctica), inland water and the open oceans
  • Evaluates changes over the past 50 years and implications for our economies, livelihoods, food security and quality of life
  • Explores impacts of trade and other global processes on biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Ranks the relative impacts of climate change, invasive species, pollution, sea and land use change and a range of other challenges to nature
  • Identifies priority gaps in our available knowledge that will need to be filled
  • Projects what biodiversity could look like in decades ahead under six future scenarios: Economic Optimism; Regional Competition; Global Sustainability; Business as Usual; Regional Sustainability and Reformed Markets
  • Assesses policy, technology, governance, behaviour changes, options and pathways to reach global goals by looking at synergies and trade-offs between food production, water security, energy and infrastructure expansion, climate change mitigation, nature conservation and economic development.


Structure of the Global Assessment:

The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Global Assessment will be based on a set of six chapters, which provide all the technical support for the key messages of the SPM.

  • Providing a road map and outlining key elements in the relationships between people and nature
  • Highlighting the current status and trends in nature, nature’s contributions to people and drivers of change
  • Assessing progress towards meeting the Aichi Targets, SDGs and the Paris Agreement
  • Exploring plausible future scenarios for nature and people to 2050
  • Focusing on the scenarios, pathways and options that lead to a sustainable future
  • Showcasing opportunities and challenges for decision makers at all levels and in a range of contexts.


Further Information on Key Issues from the Report:

Scale of Loss of Nature:

  • Gains from societal and policy responses, while important, have not stopped massive losses.
  • Since 1970, trends in agricultural production, fish harvest, bioenergy production and harvest of materials have increased, in response to population growth, rising demand and technological development, this has come at a steep price, which has been unequally distributed within and across countries.
  • The pace of agricultural expansion into intact ecosystems has varied from country to country. Losses of intact ecosystems have occurred primarily in the tropics, home to the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet.
  • The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.
  • The numbers of invasive alien species per country have risen by about 70% since 1970, across the 21 countries with detailed records.
  • The distributions of almost half (47%) of land-based flightless mammals, for example, and almost a quarter of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by climate change.


Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities and Nature:

  • At least a quarter of the global land area is traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous Peoples.
  • Nature managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities is under increasing pressure but is generally declining less rapidly than in other lands – although 72% of local indicators developed and used by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities show the deterioration of nature that underpins local livelihoods.
  • The areas of the world projected to experience significant negative effects from global changes in climate, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and nature’s contributions to people are also areas in which large concentrations of Indigenous Peoples and many of the world’s poorest communities reside.
  • Regional and global scenarios currently lack and would benefit from an explicit consideration of the views, perspectives and rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.


Global Targets and Policy Scenarios:

  • Past and ongoing rapid declines in biodiversity, ecosystem functions and many of nature’s contributions to people mean that most international societal and environmental goals,
  • The authors of the Report examined six policy scenarios – very different ‘baskets’ of clustered policy options and approaches, including ‘Regional Competition’, ‘Business as Usual’ and ‘Global Sustainability’


Policy Tools, Options and Exemplary Practices:

  • Policy actions and societal initiatives are helping to raise awareness about the impact of consumption on nature, protecting local environments, promoting sustainable local economies and restoring degraded areas.
  • The Report presents an illustrative list of possible actions and pathways for achieving them across locations, systems and scales, which will be most likely to support sustainability.
  • In agriculture, the Report emphasizes, among others: promoting good agricultural and agro ecological practices; multifunctional landscape planning (which simultaneously provides food security, livelihood opportunities, maintenance of species and ecological functions) and cross-sectoral integrated management.
  • In freshwater systems, policy options and actions include, among others: more inclusive water governance for collaborative water management and greater equity;
  • In urban areas, the Report highlights, among others: promotion of nature-based solutions; increasing access to urban services and a healthy urban environment for low-income communities.



  • 75%: terrestrial environment “severely altered” to date by human actions (marine environments 66%)
  • 47%: reduction in global indicators of ecosystem extent and condition against their estimated natural baselines, with many continuing to decline by at least 4% per decade
  • 28%: global land area held and/or managed by Indigenous Peoples , including >40% of formally protected areas and 37% of all remaining terrestrial areas with very low human intervention
  • +/-60 billion: tons of renewable and non-renewable resources extracted globally each year, up nearly 100% since 1980
  • 15%: increase in global per capita consumption of materials since 1980
  • >85%: of wetlands present in 1700 had been lost by 2000 – loss of wetlands is currently three times faster, in percentage terms, than forest loss.


Expected impacts:

The IPBES Global Assessment will:

  • Provide an agreed, evidence-based knowledge base to inform policy making for the decade ahead
  • Contribute an analysis of the implications of the loss of biodiversity for achieving the Paris Climate Agreement, global biodiversity targets, the Sustainable Development Goals and other major world objectives
  • Offer a multidimensional valuation of common global assets and how to sustain them
  • Recognize and emphasize the role each actor has in improving conditions for nature and ecosystems, and the importance of aligning efforts
  • Raise awareness of the importance of transformational multi-sectoral policies and governance structures, including the effects that policies and other indirect drivers have at a global scale and options to improve trans-regional policy-making
  • Be a starting point for in-depth analyses of the role of actions and their global implications


About IPBES:

  • The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body, established by member States in 2012 under the auspices of UNEP.
  • The objective of IPBES is to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.
  • The IPBES secretariat is based in Bonn, Germany.


Sample Question:

The evidence is clear that “One million species at risk of extinction ” the future will be bad for us if we don’t act now. There is no future for us without nature. Critically evaluate the statement.



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