Around one million plant and animal species face extinction due to human activities, resulting in severe biodiversity loss and posing a serious threat to ecosystems on which all living beings, including humans, depend for their survival, as per a new United Nations study. Released last month in Paris, the 1,500-page report states that an average of about 25 per cent of species in the assessed animal and plant groups are threatened and around 1 million species are at high risk of going extinct within decades, unless drastic action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers behind this loss.

Without bold, tangible actions, the global rate of species extinction will further accelerate, the report warns. The current rate is already tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. For example, by year 2016, 559 of the 6,190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct and at least 1,000 more stood threatened. In major land habitats, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 per cent or more, mostly since 1900.

With a rapid increase in human population, economies and global trade, demands for energy and materials has increased exponentially, putting unprecedented pressure on nature and its limited resources. For instance, three-quarters of all land have been turned into farm fields, covered by concrete or otherwise significantly altered by humans. Global warming has further exacerbated the effects of human activities on nature. These changes have contributed to widespread impacts on biodiversity, such as species distributions, population dynamics, and community structure. These effects are accelerating rapidly in marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Overexploitation of resources and pollution are compounding the negative impacts on nature.

The report clearly links the importance of biodiversity and nature with concerns that affect humans directly, such as food security and clean water. It states that goals to conserve biodiversity, such as the ones enshrined in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, will not be achieved based on current trajectories. This will further impact the targets under the Paris Agreement. Any real, positive change can only be achieved through ‘transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.’ The main interventions that can generate transformative change are: (1) incentives and capacity building; (2) cross-sectoral cooperation; (3) pre-emptive action; (4) decision-making in the context of resilience and uncertainty; and (5) environmental law and implementation.

The report is the most detailed look at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and its multiple consequences. It involved more than 450 international experts and is based on thousands of scientific studies over three years. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from 132 countries, has been released with the full report set to be published later this year.