A million species worldwide could become extinct as a result of human activity, a United Nations report has warned—and developing regions including Africa could be among the hardest hit.
The warning comes in the sixth assessment report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published on 6 May.
“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” said IPBES chairman Robert Watson in a statement.
The report draws on 145 expert authors from 50 countries, as well as on indigenous and local knowledge. It claims more than 40 per cent of amphibian species, a third of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened by extinction. At least 680 vertebrate species have been driven to extinction since the 16th century.
The drivers of change include shifts in land-use, population growth, pesticide use and climate change, the report says. And the pace of change is not slowing. The report estimates that another 25 million kilometres of paved roads will be built by 2050, of which 90 per cent in poor countries opening up previously remote areas to exploitation.
Areas that are home to indigenous peoples or to poor communities will be hit especially hard by the negative impacts of global change, the report says: “Those negative effects also influence the ability of indigenous peoples and local communities to manage and conserve wild and domesticated biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people.”
The damage will not just be to nature, it warns. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress in alleviating poverty and hunger and in expanding access to healthcare and clean water. More than 800 million people face food insecurity in Africa and Asia as a result of global change, the report says.
It’s not too late to act, according to Watson, but there needs to be “transformative change” at every level of society from local to global. “By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo,” he said, but added that such opposition can be overcome for the public good.