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Scientists warn of grave impacts from loss of natural world

by Reuters
Monday, 6 May 2019 11:59 GMT

Flamingos are seen in their enclosure on a sunny day at the Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, Germany, May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

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Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, warns report endorsed by 130 countries

PARIS, May 6 (Reuters) - The accelerating loss of plant and animal species will have grave consequences for people worldwide, scientists warned on Monday in the largest comprehensive study into the impact of modern civilisation on nature.

Here are some of the key findings from the report, which was produced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which is comprised of 130 countries.

BIODIVERSITY IMPACTS - PLANTS AND ANIMALS: Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, leaving a million species now at risk of extinction, some within decades.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: Nature managed by indigenous peoples and local communities is under increasing pressure but generally declining less rapidly than in other lands.

SPECIES DECLINE: The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20 percent, mostly since 1900, and there has been a 30 percent reduction in global terrestrial habitat integrity caused by habitat loss and deterioration.

EXPONENTIAL RATES: The current rate of global species extinction is tens to hundreds times higher than the average over the last 10 million years, and the rate is accelerating.

MARINE CREATURES: Around 40 percent of amphibian species are threatened with extinction, along with 33 percent of reef forming corals, sharks and shark relatives, and more than 33 per cent of marine mammals.

CLIMATE CHANGE HOLISTIC APPROACH: The world cannot save the climate without saving biodiversity and vice versa, since the natural systems that sustain life on Earth are intimately interconnected.

NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS: Many of the most promising responses to climate change, such as protecting and restoring forests and wetlands, sustainable agriculture and respecting indigenous knowledge, also protect biodiversity and human wellbeing.

ACCELERATING EXTINCTION: Using climate scenarios generated by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors found that 16 per cent of species would be at risk of extinction if the world follows its current trajectory of 4.3 degrees Celsius of warming compared to pre-industrial levels.

PROFOUND IMPACTS: Even if the world manages to limit warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, the ranges of most terrestrial species are projected to shrink profoundly.

LIMITED WARNING: Many of the policies that scientists hope could limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees would also deliver the greatest chance of preserving the most biodiversity possible.

FOOD, AGRICULTURE AND FORESTS PRIME CULPRIT: Land clearing for farming is a key driver of biodiversity loss. The sector is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions through land clearing, crop production and fertilisation – with animal-based foods the biggest contributors.

DIMINISHING SOILS: 23 percent of land areas have seen a reduction in agricultural productivity due to land degradation, which could be mitigated by a shift towards restorative farming practices and smallholding, which is better for the environment.

VANISHING POLLINATORS: 75 percent of global food crop types rely on animal pollination, yet the loss of pollinators caused by intensive farming is putting $235-577 billion worth of annual global crop output at risk.

DARK MONEY: 68 percent of foreign capital invested in the soy and beef sectors, which is driving deforestation in the Amazon, is channelled through tax havens.

DAMAGING SUBSIDIES: In 2015, an estimated $100 billion of financial support in wealthy OECD countries was used to finance agricultural practices that are potentially harmful to the environment

OCEANS, FISHING AND AQUACULTURE OVER-FISHING: Major marine fish stocks are disappearing due to overfishing; 33 percent of such stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels in 2015.

INDUSTRIAL SCALE: Industrial fishing fleets are now roving across 55 per cent of the world's ocean area, and sustainable practices are taking place on too small a scale to meaningfully address the over-fishing crisis.

BIG BUSINESS: Billions of dollars worth of the annual subsidies awarded to boost the capacity of the world's fishing fleets may have a negative impact on nature.

FEWER FISH: Fish biomass is projected to decrease by 3-25 percent by the end of the century in low and high climate warming scenarios, respectively.

DEAD ZONES: Pollution from fertilisers has led to the formation of 400 low oxygen 'dead zones' in coastal waters covering more than 245,000 square kilometres.

(Reporting by Matthew Green Editing by Gareth Jones)

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