By Henri Brocklebank
Director of Conservation
The IPBES (“Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”) is probably the most important body you’ve never heard of! It is for biodiversity what the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is for climate change – a great gathering of scientists from all over the globe to provide the best available evidence on the state of nature on the planet.
The IPBES has just launched it’s 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the last one was produced in 2005.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this document. The report cost $2.4 Million and took 3 years to produce, involving at least 400 international experts and citing at least 15,000 references. It is the best global assessment of the state of nature – how are our ecosystems, how are they changing and can they continue to support the human population?
A 39 page summary report can be found here and in brief it sounds a deafening alarm bell!
Nature is essential for human existence, and most of nature’s contributions to people are not replaceable. Once gone, it can be gone forever. Nature, and its vital contributions to people, however, are deteriorating worldwide. Many are in rapid decline. Around 25% of the species examined are threatened, up to 1 million species face extinction within decades.
“While more food, energy and materials than ever before are now being supplied to people in most places, this is increasingly at the expense of nature’s ability to provide such contributions in the future and frequently undermines nature’s many other contributions, which range from water quality regulation to sense of place. The biosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends, is being altered to an unparalleled degree across all spatial scales. Biodiversity – the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – is declining faster than at any time in human history.”
The report in effects says that while we may be getting more materials for ourselves, we are stealing these from future generations, from other places or taking them at the expense of other vital services.
Furthermore, rates of change have accelerated over the last 50 years – it’s getting worse, quicker! Causes of change are largely land use change (the way we do agriculture around the world) and unsustainable exploitation (such as marine fishing). But climate change is increasingly exacerbating other causes of damage.
In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled, the global economy has grown nearly 4-fold and global trade has grown 10-fold, together driving up the demands for energy and materials. Economic incentives have generally favoured expanding the economy (and often environmental harm) over conservation or restoration – we are subsidising the destruction of our own future.
In the past the world has set (rather unambitious) targets for conservation and enhancement of nature. Most countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 and a round of targets was again set in 2011
The report is clear that these targets will not be met. To get close will require “transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors”. Without transformative change these negative trends will continue to 2050 and beyond
Nature is not just a “nice to have”, it is essential for our existence. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of the targets for Sustainable Development Goals, in particular those relating to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.
The report, however, makes it clear that we can do something about this if we want to. “Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.” Clear proposals are made for what is needed in order to achieve this transformational change. Promoting a vision of a good quality of life that does not rely on material consumption, and we must take responsibility for the effect of their consumption. This would be a good starting point.
There are no “externalities” (things external to the economy) any more. The old idea that nature is an “externality”, off to one side to the main business of making money, must now be consigned to the history books. All costs, including costs to nature, have to be counted – and this is the point about taking responsibility for the impacts of our consumption.
The IPCC says we have less than 12 years to change course to prevent irreversible and possible catastrophic changes to our climate. The IPBES shows that the state of our biodiversity and ecosystems is at least as important to the future of the human race, and possible even more urgent. A fact given even greater impetus by the World Scientists Second Warning to Humanity – signed by some 15,000 scientists. We cannot kick this can down the road any longer!
As we sit in our Sussex gardens/parks/woodlands listening to the springtime bird song, global biodiversity issues are often perceived as distant from us. This report is for all of us. Our Sussex wildlife is not immune and our lifestyles are responsible for losses beyond the UK. Sussex Wildlife Trust will keep playing our role and step up the urgency of the issues with our local decision makers. They cannot ignore these stark international warnings and they must lead the change that we need. We want a wilder Sussex, but that is just a campaign in the movement for a WILDER WORLD!