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Biodiversity and Ecosystem services: a global assessment of their trends

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Context - The IPBES has published its first global assessement of biodiversity.

What are the conclusions of this evaluation of ecosystems and the services they provide ?

This is a faithful summary of the leading report produced in 2019 by The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): "The global assessment report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services, summary for policymakers " 

  • Source document:IPBES (2019)
  • Summary & Details: GreenFacts
Latest update: 20 December 2019

1. What is the IPBES?

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012 and is comprised of 130 member governments. Its objective is to provide up-to-date and independent scientific assessments on biodiversity and ecosystems, so that governments, the private sector and civil society can make better-informed decisions.

2. What are the services provided by Nature?

The term « Nature » is a concept that includes ecosystems, their biodiversity, and goods and services contributions to people, which encompass a variety of things vital for human existence.

Nature distributes fresh water, regulates the climate, provides pollination and pest control and reduces the impact of natural hazards. Nature also underpins all dimensions of human health and contributes to food, energy and materials more than ever before.

Services provided by ecosystems range from water quality regulation to a sense of place and from material aspects such as genetic resources and a variety of materials to aspects vital to the maintaining of culture such as inspiration, learning, and physical and psychological experiences that are central to quality of life and cultural integrity, even if their aggregated value is difficult to quantify.

3. How important are Nature’s contributions to human existence?

Most of nature’s contributions to people are now co-produced with people, but while anthropogenic assets – knowledge and institutions, technology infrastructure and financial capital – can enhance or partially replace some of those contributions, some are not fully replaceable and some are even irreplaceable, like some medicines. These Nature’s contributions to people are often distributed unequally across space and time and among different segments of society, and there are often trade-offs in the production and use of nature’s contributions. For instance, the great expansion in the production of food, feed, fibre and bioenergy has occurred at the cost of many other contributions of Nature to quality of life.

4. What are the present trends in Nature’s state and biodiversity?

The biosphere is being altered worldwide to an unparalleled degree across all spatial scales by multiple human drivers, with the great majority of indicators of ecosystems and biodiversity showing rapid decline.

Exctinction since 1500 / Declines in species survival 1980 ( Red List Index)

The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – is declining faster than at any time in human history. Since 1970, 14 of the 18 categories of contributions of Nature that were assessed, mostly regulating and non-material contributions, have declined.

An average of around 25 % of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, and globally, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are also disappearing. This loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.

5. What are the elements that have driven these changes in the past 50 years?

Unprecedented in human history, in the past 50 years a variety of economic, political and social factors have shifted the economic and environmental gains and losses of production and consumption, contributing to new economic opportunities, but also to impacts on nature and its contributions to people: the human population has doubled, the global economy has grown nearly fourfold and global trade has grown tenfold. These direct and indirect drivers of change in Nature are have been (in order of importance for their impact):

  1. Changes in land and sea use;
  2. Direct exploitation of organisms in particular overexploitation, of animals, plants and other organisms, mainly via harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing;
  3. Climate change;
  4. Pollution;
  5. Invasion of alien species.

7. What are the consequences for the human services provided by Nature?

Exclusion, scarcity and/or the unequal distribution of nature’s contributions to people may fuel social instability and conflict in a complex interaction with other factors. Armed conflicts have an impact on ecosystems beyond their destabilizing effects on societies, and a range of indirect impacts, including the displacement of people and activities.

Most international societal and environmental goals, such as those embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, will not be achieved based on current trajectories and will also undermine other goals, such as those specified in the Paris Agreement about climate change and the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.

8. What goals and objectives in the way things are done should be set for 2030 and beyond to conserve Nature while still benefiting from it?

There is a need for a rapid and improved deployment of both existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

A key component is the evolution of global financial and economic systems steering away from the current, limited paradigm of economic growth. This implies the reduction of inequalities, reducing overconsumption and waste and addressing environmental impacts from the local to the global scales.

The achievement of societal and environmental objectives through sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and livestock systems, the safeguarding of native species, varieties, breeds and habitats, and ecological restoration depends thus on new scenarios and pathways that explore the effects of low-to-moderate population growth, and transformative changes in the production and consumption practices.

9. What are the main obstacles in meeting these sustainability goals regarding in particular the biodiversity challenges?

By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo. If, for the broader public good, obstacles are overcome, a commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level of new frameworks can help transform the public and private sectors to achieve sustainability at the local, national and global levels.

Uncertainties and complexities in transformations towards sustainability can be reduced through governance approaches that are integrative, inclusive, informed and adaptive.

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