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Part 1: Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 – Status of Biodiversity


    The Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is the flagship publication of the international Convention on Biological Diversity. It is a periodic report that summarizes the latest data on the status and trends of biodiversity and draws conclusions relevant to the further implementation of the Convention. The reports are based on different types of information including national reports, scientific literature, information from the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership and supplementary studies.

    This 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO5) provides clear evidence that can inform policy-making and guide an agenda for action. It spells out transitions that can create a society living in harmony with nature: in how we use land and forests, organize our agriculture and food supply systems, manage fisheries, use water, manage urban environments and tackle climate change.

    As underlined by Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme “If we build on what has already been achieved, and place biodiversity at the heart of all our policies and decisions – including in COVID-19 recovery packages – we can ensure a better future for our societies and the planet. This Outlook is an important tool in making this vision a reality.“

    1. Introduction

      This 5th report GBO-5 re-examines the causes of biodiversity and ecosystem change, the implications for people, and policy options based on programs worldwide that demonstrate successful approaches. It synthesizes comprehensive evidence of the growing biodiversity crisis and the urgent need for action. On this basis, the report presents pathways to reach new targets for by 2030, and the route to achieve the world’s ultimate vision: Living in harmony with nature’ by 2050.

      The report comes as parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) negotiate a new 10-year global framework for biodiversity-related policymaking. The framework, which will set new goals for the protection and sustainable use of nature, will be considered for adoption at a historic UN Biodiversity Conference -- the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15) in May 2021.

      The report offers an integrated overview of the world’s achievements and shortfalls of the previous global Biodiversity Targets of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2010-2020).

      The Aichi Biodiversity Targets

      1 - Awareness of biodiversity increased2 - Biodiversity values integrated3 - Incentives reformed4 - Sustainable production and consumption5 - Habitat loss halved or reduced
      6 - Sustainable management of aquatic living resources7 - Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry8 - Pollution reduced9 - Invasive alien species prevented and controlled10 - Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
      11 - Protected areas12 - Reducing risk of extinction13 - Safeguarding genetic diversity14 - Ecosystem services15 - Ecosystem restoration and resilience
      16 - Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources 17 - Biodiversity strategies and action plans18 - Traditional knowledge19 - Sharing information and knowledge20 - Mobilizing resources from all sources

      It is build on a wide range of evidence documenting the current status of global biodiversity, including:

      • The four previous GBO reports (2001, 2006, 2010, 2015) and the 6th National Reports to the CBD from Convention’s member Parties
      • Assessments by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and recent research and indicators updated since this IPBES Global Assessment;
      • Plant Conservation Report (Global Strategy for Plant Conservation targets, 2011-2020) and Local Biodiversity Outlook relating to indigenous peoples and local communities.
      • Reports from other international bodies, including: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and others;

      The report also examines the essential links between biodiversity and other global agendas, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

      2. What are the biodiversity issues that were recorded during the last decade?

        Overall, little progress has been made over the past decade in eliminating, phasing out or reforming incentives potentially harmful to biodiversity. Relatively few countries have taken steps even to identify incentives that harm biodiversity and little progress has been made over the past decade in eliminating, phasing out or reforming subsidies and other incentives potentially harmful to biodiversity. Nearly half of all countries have not yet put in place the laws and regulations meeting the requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

        Genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals, and wild relatives, continues to be eroded. The wild relatives of important food crops are poorly represented in ex situ seed banks that help guarantee their conservation, important for future food security.

        The depletion of the biosphere is further illustrated by recent analysis showing that global stocks of natural capital declined per person by nearly 40% between 1992 and 2014, compared with a doubling of produced capital and a 13% increase in human capital over the same period.

        Overall, nearly 10 % of the total wilderness remaining in the early 1990s has been lost since then, accounting an estimated 3.3 million square kilometres of wilderness. The largest losses of wilderness took place in South America (30% loss) and Africa (14% loss). By 2015, less than one quarter of the Earth’s land surface (23%) was estimated to remain as wilderness.

        The capacity of ecosystems to provide the essential services on which societies depend continues to decline, and consequently, most ecosystem services (nature’s contributions to people) are in decline. In general, poor and vulnerable communities, as well as women, are disproportionately affected by this decline.

        Examples of the disproportionate impacts of a decline in ecosystem services on women and girls
        Due their use of wetlands for firewood, handicraft materials, water and herbal medicine, women are more impacted by wetland degradation than men

        Conversely considering gender dimensions in biodiversity management can lead to positive outcomes for biodiversity and gender equality.

        Despite important advances in legislation to strengthen women’s land rights, significant gaps between countries and regions remain.

        Among well-assessed taxonomic groups, nearly one quarter of species are threatened with extinction unless the drivers of biodiversity loss are drastically reduced, with an estimated total of one million threatened species across all groups. Vertebrate species populations have fallen, on average, by more than two-thirds since 1970, and by nearly one-third since 2010. Wild relatives of farmed birds and mammals are moving closer to extinction.

        Looking at the more recent trend since 2000, the Living Planet Index has fallen by just under one-third overall (32%), with freshwater species populations continuing to decline the most (44%), followed by terrestrial species populations (39%), and marine species populations (8%). The recent trend shows overall rates of decline similar to those observed since 1970, with recent terrestrial declines faster than the long-term average, and the recent marine decline somewhat slower, but with a high level of uncertainty.

        Action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species: significant efforts over the last decade
        The poaching of both elephants and rhinoceroses has consistently declined since 2011, as have the prices paid for tusks and horns.

        However, the quantity of pangolin scales seized has increased 10-fold in just five years, while the trade in 'redivory' derived from the casques of helmeted hornbills has been increasing in recent years.

        Further new markets, such as the trafficking of European glass eels, have emerged in the wake of strengthened control.

        3. What are the biodiversity areas more particularly affected?

          Biodiversity continues to decline in landscapes used to produce food and timber; and food and agricultural production remains among the main drivers of global biodiversity loss. Deforestation is accelerating again in some areas and loss of tree cover from tropical primary forests has been particularly high in the second half of this decade. Loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitats remains high in forest and other biomes, especially in the most biodiversity-rich ecosystems in tropical regions.

          This despite some progress to promote sustainable agriculture, forestry and aquaculture, in causes of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in Europe and efforts under the Common Agricultural Policy to address this have not been sufficient to reduce the decline.

          - The area covered by natural wetlands has continued to decline, with the Wetland Extent Trends (WET) index having reduced by an average of 35% worldwide between 1970 and 2015. Losses have been relatively greater in coastal areas. Rivers are becoming increasingly fragmented, further threatening freshwater biodiversity.

          - The decline of agricultural biodiversity may, in some cases, compromise agricultural production. Many key components of biodiversity in food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels were in decline as reported in the conclusions of the 2019 FAO report on the State of the World’s Biodiversity in Food and Agriculture.

          - Wild Pollinators have declined in distribution and diversity (and in some cases, abundance) at local and regional scales at least in North West Europe and North America, the only regions with adequate data. Mammal and bird species responsible for pollination are on average moving closer to extinction as are species used for food and medicine. Pollination by wild species is essential to crops and natural ecosystems; animal pollination is directly responsible for between 5-8% of current global agricultural production by volume For example, the decline in the abundance and diversity of pollinating species contributes to lower yields of pollinator-dependent crops. Wild species used for food and medicine are increasingly threatened with extinction, owing to a combination of unsustainable use and other pressures, such as habitat loss driven by unsustainable agriculture, logging and commercial and residential development.

          For those bird species associated with international trade, a continued increase in extinction risk is reported by the Red List Index on internationally traded species typically meeting the demand for pet birds kept in cages. In addition, impacts of their utilization show that, on average, that use by people is increasing the degree to which species of birds, mammals and amphibians are threatened with extinction.

          - The cumulative number of invasive alien species increased by about 100 from 2000-2010 with in particular the impact of massively expanded trade providing additional opportunities to carry species into alien environments. There is no evidence of a slowing down in the number of new introductions of alien species and these successes represent only a small proportion of all occurrences of invasive species. This despite successful programmes to eradicate invasive alien species, especially invasive mammals on islands. Current indicators also suggest that on balance, more species are moving closer to extinction due to increased pressure from invasive alien species, than those native species given a better survival chance thanks to eradication or control of biological invaders. And relatively few national targets address the identification and prioritization of pathways for the introduction of invasive alien species.

          - Rates of use (per area) of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers are higher than the previous decade by about 14% and 12% respectively. While, globally and in most regions, the rate has stabilized this decade and despite increasing efforts to improve the use of fertilizers, excess of nutrient levels with pollution, pesticides, plastics and other waste continue to be detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.

          - Coral reefs (>60%) and other vulnerable ecosystems have shown the most rapid increase in extinction risk of all assessed groups and continue to be affected by multiple threats including climate change and the ocean acidification subsequent to the increase of CO2 concentrations. Hard coral cover has declined significantly in some regions, and there has been a shift towards coral species less able to support diverse reef habitats. Overfishing and destructive fishing are the most pervasive immediate drivers to coral bleaching with the effects of runoff from agricultural land including sedimentation and the build-up of nutrients as well as physical destruction from coastal development, with marine and land-based sources of pollution.

          - Genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals, and wild relatives, continues to be eroded and the proportion of livestock breeds that are at risk or extinct is increasing, although at a slower rate than in earlier years. Wild relatives of farmed birds and mammals are moving closer to extinction and wild relatives of important food crops are poorly represented in ex-situ seed banks that help guarantee their conservation, important for future food security. Wild plants useful for economic, social or cultural reasons are in a poor state of conservation worldwide. An indicator recently developed to assess the conservation status of nearly 7,000 useful wild plant species found that fewer than 3% were sufficiently conserved either through protected areas or in seedbanks or botanic gardens.

          - Plastic pollution is accumulating in the oceans, with severe impacts on marine ecosystems and in other ecosystems with still largely unknown implications1. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (‘ghost gear’) is a particularly deadly form marine waste impacting many threatened species. About 46 % of the species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species have been impacted by such gear, including through entanglement and ingestion. It also has impacts on sensitive marine environments, such as coral reefs. Electronic waste is another growing source of pollution fuelled by higher consumption rates of electrical and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few repair options.

          1 See our Highlight: Recent reports and initiatives on plastic and micro-plastic waste at sea

          4. What is the present biodiversity status of fisheries and aquaculture?

            One third of marine fish stocks are overfished, a higher proportion than ten years ago. Many fisheries are still causing unsustainable levels of by catch of non-target species and are damaging marine habitats. The area with the highest percentage of unsustainably fished stocks is the Mediterranean and Black Sea (62.5%) followed by the Southeast Pacific (54.5%) and Southwest Atlantic (53.3 %). There has been little progress in reducing global fisheries subsidies during this decade and some $22 billion was spent on subsidies linked to overfishing through expanding the capacity of fishing fleets.

            In recent years the proportion of feed coming from capture fisheries has declined, and of this, more is coming from bycatch. Another positive practice is the increased use of marine bivalve filter feeders, sometimes grown in combination with fed finfish species, helping to lower nutrient load and reduce water pollution.

            Aquaculture is generally paid much less attention than issues associated with forestry and agriculture while it is the fastest growing sector of global food production. Challenges for its sustainability vary enormously, depending on, among other things, whether the produced species are fed or not, and the degree of integration with other agricultural activities. Overall, much inland-water aquaculture, constituting approximately two-thirds of the total world production, is considered sustainable. The FAO Committee on Fisheries has noted this increasing importance of sustainable aquaculture for food security and nutrition, and has recommended the development of Sustainable Aquaculture Guidelines, complementing the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

            5. What are the particular impacts of climate change on biodiversity?

              Total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have grown by some 7% compared to the previous decade. Cascading impacts of changes in species interactions, linked to climate change, affect the structure and functioning of ecosystems, in turn threatening food security and other components of human well-being. Climate change has impacted terrestrial and freshwater species and ecosystems in high mountain and polar regions, through appearance of land previously covered by ice, changes in snow cover, and thawing permafrost. These changes have contributed to shifts in seasonal activities of species, and altered the abundance and distribution of plant and animal species that have ecological, cultural and economic importance.

              Climate change has locally increased the number of species in some habitats such as high mountains, as lower-elevation species migrate to higher altitudes. However, species adapted to cold or snow have declined in abundance, increasing their risk of extinction, notably on mountain summits. Other negative climate-linked impacts on biodiversity include contraction of the habitats of ice-associated marine mammals and seabirds linked to polar sea ice changes, an increase in wildfire and rapid thaw of permafrost.

              Themes covered
              Publications A-Z

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