IPBES : New article | Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change

The time is now

For decades, scientists have been raising calls for societal changes that will reduce our impacts on nature. Though much conservation has occurred, our natural environment continues to decline under the weight of our consumption. Humanity depends directly on the output of nature; thus, this decline will affect us, just as it does the other species with which we share this world. Díaz et al. review the findings of the largest assessment of the state of nature conducted as of yet. They report that the state of nature, and the state of the equitable distribution of nature’s support, is in serious decline. Only immediate transformation of global business-as-usual economies and operations will sustain nature as we know it, and us, into the future.

Structured Abstract

Background

Human actions have long been known to drive declines in nature, and there is growing awareness of how globalization means that these drivers increasingly act at a distance (telecoupling). However, evidence from different disciplines has largely accumulated in parallel, and the global effects of telecouplings have never been addressed comprehensively. Now, the first integrated global-scale intergovernmental assessment of the status, trends, and future of the links between people and nature provides an unprecedented picture of the extent of our mutual dependence, the breadth and depth of the ongoing and impending crisis, and the interconnectedness among sectors and regions.

Advances

Human impacts on life on Earth have increased sharply since the 1970s. The world is increasingly managed to maximize the flow of material contributions from nature to keep up with rising demands for food, energy, timber, and more, with global trade increasing the geographic separation between supply and demand. This unparalleled appropriation of nature is causing the fabric of life on which humanity depends to fray and unravel: Most indicators of the state of nature, whether monitored by natural and social scientists or by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, are declining. These include the number and population size of wild species, the number of local varieties of domesticated species, the distinctness of ecological communities, and the extent and integrity of many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. As a consequence, nature’s capacity to provide crucial benefits has also declined, including environmental processes underpinning human health and nonmaterial contributions to human quality of life. The costs are distributed unequally, as are the benefits of an expanding global economy.

These trends in nature and its contributions to people are projected to worsen in the coming decades—unevenly so among different regions—unless rapid and integrated action is taken to reduce the direct drivers responsible for most change over the past 50 years: land and sea use change, direct harvesting of many plants and animals, climate change (whose impacts are set to accelerate), pollution, and the spread of invasive alien species. Exploratory scenarios suggest that a world with increased regional barriers—resonating with recent geopolitical trends—will yield more negative global trends in nature, as well as the greatest disparity in trends across regions, greater than a world with liberal financial markets, and much greater than one that prioritizes and integrates actions toward sustainable development. Evidence from target-seeking scenarios and pathways indicates that a world that achieves many of the global biodiversity targets and sustainability goals related to food, energy, climate, and water is not—yet—beyond reach, but that no single action can get us there.

Outlook

Our comprehensive assessment of status, trends, and possible futures for nature and people suggests that action at the level of direct drivers of nature decline, although necessary, is not sufficient to prevent further deterioration of the fabric of life on Earth. Reversal of recent declines—and a sustainable global future—are only possible with urgent transformative change that tackles the root causes: the interconnected economic, sociocultural, demographic, political, institutional, and technological indirect drivers behind the direct drivers. As well as a pan-sectoral approach to conserving and restoring the nature that underpins many goals, this transformation will need innovative governance approaches that are adaptive; inclusive; informed by existing and new evidence; and integrative across systems, jurisdictions, and tools. Although the challenge is formidable, every delay will make the task even harder. Crucially, our analysis pinpoints five priority interventions (“levers”) and eight leverage points for intervention in the indirect drivers of global social and economic systems where they can make the biggest difference.

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Source: Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 13 December 2019