Bleak biodiversity report: ‘It is going to take quite transformative change’

Protesters sit in the road in Parliament Square, in London, on 23 April, 2019, during a climate protest. - Photo: AP /Matt Dunham

Environmental scientists say a UN assessment on the global state of biodiversity that says a million species are at risk of extinction shows we must rethink our economic paradigms.

The most comprehensive report on global biodiversity ever compiled was released late last night and says nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history.

According to the global assessment, an average of about 25 percent of animals and plants are now threatened.

All this suggests around a million species now face extinction within decades, a rate of destruction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years.

Professor Eduardo Brondizio, a co-lead author of the report, said all of this is happening because we're changing the way we use the earth's resources.

"The direct drivers of change that have led to this situation [are]: land-use change and sea-use change - particularly in coastal areas - followed by the direct extraction of resources. [Then] harvesting, planting, plants or animals in terrestrial areas or the rate of fishing that we have, followed by climate change."

Humans have significantly altered three-quarters of the land-based environment and two-thirds of the marine environment.

More than a third of the world's land surface and nearly three-quarters of freshwater resources are devoted to crop or livestock production.

The direct drivers of change that have led to this situation [are]: land-use change and sea-use change - particularly in coastal areas - followed by the direct extraction of resources. [Then] harvesting, planting, plants or animals in terrestrial areas or the rate of fishing that we have, followed by climate change."

The director of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, Andrea Byrom said the report cannot be ignored, and we should be very worried.

"We should be sitting up and taking notice - and then taking action if we can."

Dr Byron said the report not only identifies problems, it also provides some really good solutions.

"What worries my slightly is that many of the solutions are quite complex. As they say in the report, it is going to take quite transformative change."

The report suggests moving away from GDP as a key measure of economic wealth and instead adopting more holistic approaches that would capture quality of life and long-term effects.

It argues that our traditional notion of a "good quality of life" has involved increasing consumption on every level and must change.

"It's going to be one of the defining questions of our time. I'm not an economist so I can't claim to even begin to know exactly how we would do that.

"But I think the report highlights that we need to think really differently."

She said the Resource Management Act in New Zealand provides a good example of legislation that could be used to tip the balance in favour of nature and the environment rather than toward economic growth.

"It's those kinds of policy shifts that we're going to have to think about here."

"No one's saying we have to transform overnight, but this report definitely highlights the urgency with which we need to pay attention to the problem."

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