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Loss of biodiversity is accelerating – 1 million species threatened with extinction

Published on May 9, 2019 | Author: Linus Karlsson
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This message was communicated earlier this week by IPBES when launching the Summary for Policymakers of their new flagship the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The rate of biodiversity loss has received more attention the past few years, which was reflected in the extensive media coverage of the release. In Swedish press an opinion piece was published by a long list of renowned biodiversity experts, arguing for extensive measures to deal with the alarming development.


The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive survey of the ecosystems to date. The Report is based on more than 15,000 scientific studies as well as indigenous knowledge about local conditions. The extensive work by the 145 experts involved has resulted in clear conclusions about the status of the global ecosystems, but also a way forward to deal with the accelerating species extinction.

The Report shows that nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history. More than 40% of all amphibians, 33% of the reef forming corals and one third of all marine mammals are endangered. In terrestrial ecosystems, over half a million species are estimated to become extinct if their habitats are not restored. In total, one million species, one eight of all species on the planet, are threatened with extinction, many within decades.

Who is affected?

The current trend in biodiversity loss will undermine the work towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The Report highlights how human well-being depends on ecosystem services delivered by a healthy environment. For example, more than 2 billion people rely on wood-fuel for cooking and heating, 4 billion rely primarily on natural medicines, and a majority of all cancer drugs are originally engineered from natural substances. The Report concludes that negative effects caused by biodiversity loss will disproportionally affect indigenous people and communities living in poverty. Areas managed by indigenous people and local communities are though in general well preserved, but are threatened by increasing resource extraction and infrastructure development. These activities have negative impacts on traditional livelihoods and result in a loss of indigenous and local knowledge in sustainable land management.

Drivers for biodiversity loss

The major drivers of the current global extinction are: (1) Changes in land and sea use, (2) Exploitation of organisms, (3) Climate change, (4) Pollution, and (5) Invasive alien species. Three quarters of the terrestrial environment has been altered by human actions and 85% of all wetlands are lost. Agricultural expansion is the major reason for land-use changes and food production today occupies one third of all land surfaces. Since 1970 the global crop production has increased with 300%. During this time timber production increased with 45% while significant parts of the natural forests were lost.

“The only way to reach biodiversity goals set for 2030 and beyond is through ‘transformative change’ across all levels of society”

Reaching biodiversity goals

In the Report IPBES presents several scenarios exploring how different pathways will affect biodiversity. The scenarios shows that with the current trajectory few of the global conservational goals, such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals, will be reached. Many of the goals will even see a negative development. The Report shows that the only way to reach biodiversity goals set for 2030 and beyond is through ‘transformative change’ across all levels of society.

IPBES emphasizes that such a development is possible but will face heavy opposition from those with an interest in status quo. ‘Transformative change’ requires a rapid deployment of existing policy instruments, a widespread adoption of sustainable practises by all businesses, institutions and individuals, and considerable funding for ecological restoration. For the agricultural sector this means feeding a growing population in a sustainable manner. To do so IPBES proposes a number of strategies focusing on soil and water conservation and more diverse farming systems integrated with trees, e.g. agroforestry.

The role of agroforestry

In Agroforestry Network’s publication Scaling up Agroforestry we summarize the scientific knowledge base on how agroforestry can increase biodiversity. Some conclusions are:

  • Species richness is higher in agroforestry systems compared to fields with annual crops.
  • Areas with agroforestry can host many of the species found in tropical forest reserves, which currently are decreasing in size.
  • Agroforestry farms can function as ecological corridors between natural forests in a fragmented landscape.