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13 May 2019

World leaders and scientists commit to biodiversity: Focali members comment on the IPBES Global Assessment

Photo: Dominik Lange/Unsplash

On Monday the 7th of May 2019, the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released their first worldwide report on the state of our biodiversity. The IPBES report on the state of our biodiversity paints a dark picture – species are going extinct at a rate ten to hundreds of times faster than the average over the last 10 million years.

“The message is clear. What we need now is massive, transformative and globally coordinated changes across all levels of society. We can’t just preserve, we must reverse the trend by increasing biodiversity locally, regionally and globally,” says Focali-member, Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, Professor in Systematics and Biodiversity at University of Gothenburg and Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

Species are going extinct faster than ever

The report reveals that the health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. It indicates that around 1 million of the world’s ca. 8 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Robert Watson, the chair of IPBES told The Guardian that this rapid loss of biodiversity implies that “we are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,”

Focali-member Marie Stenseke, Professor in Human Geography at University of Gothenburg, is the co-chair of IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP), which is made up of 25 members from all over the world. MEP is a core body within IPBES, overseeing all of the scientific and technical functions, including the global assessment process. Marie has been closely engaged in the conceptual evolution within IPBES and helped to broaden the approach from “ecosystem services” to “nature’s contributions to people”.

“The IPBES report is not presenting new research but builds on previous studies, so the alarming situation is already known among researchers. Therefore, the biggest news is perhaps that the report has been approved by 132 countries all over the world. The approval makes them, in a sense, committed to action. It can no longer be said ‘We did not know’, nor ‘We did not know what to do to stop the degrading of nature’,” Marie says.

As part of the management committee of IPBES global assessment Marie Stenseke, highlights that the report is not only an assessment of trends biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. It also includes the assessments of measures to be taken in order to change from the current negative trends towards more sustainable ones. “It is a truly interdisciplinary piece of work, with high scientific credibility from a breadth of perspectives,” she explains and adds that the report not only bridges academic disciplines but “spearheads new paths in assessing indigenous and local knowledge together with scientific knowledge. This body of work illuminates alternative perspectives on human relations with nature, compared to the common western views, and embraces diverse visions of a good life, which could enable the necessary transformative societal changes.”

The fact that global transformative societal changes well beyond “business as usual” are needed becomes clear when looking at the presentation of the main causes attributed to the biodiversity loss. These are: 1) Land/Sea Use Change 2) Direct Exploitation 3) Climate Change 4) Pollution 5) Invasive Species

These are all underpinned by activities that can be directly linked to humans – production and consumption patterns, trade and technological innovations. The results of the assessment pin-point how loss of biodiversity affects us all and that the consequences as well as the needed measures span through multiple sectors of humanity.

Mt Visoke in Rwanda

Photo: Allisson Perrigo (GGBC)

Biodiversity not a separate ’environment’ issue

Maria Ölund, Coordinator of the Focali research network says: “We all need to understand that biodiversity is not a separate ‘environment’ issue or about protection of great animals that we want to be able to see during safaris. No, it’s about the very fabric of our existence that we are now thinning out, starting from the fundamental role of pollinators and microorganisms for our food production. It´s all connected and climate change adds pressure on impacted ecosystems. We thus need urgent action across disciplines, sectors and regions to address this intertwined crisis.”

The Focali research network  includes researchers from multiple disciplines that come together to tackle complex and linked challenges, such as the links between forest and land-use, biodiversity, climate and livelihoods. The researchers in the network have rich experience of interacting with stakeholders and policy makers in different sectors of society to find measures to the identified challenges. Several of the researchers in the network focus on analyzing how deforestation in tropical forest regions are impacted by global consumption patterns.

As the IPBES report points out expansion of agriculture into intact ecosystems is a main driver behind the rapid loss of habitats for the species at risk of extinction. 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost between 1980 and 2000, resulting mainly from cattle ranching in Latin America and plantations in South-East Asia of which 80% is for palm oil.

Focali-member Alexandre Antonelli has done extensive research on Amazonian biodiversity. Focali asked him to comment on the findings of the IPBES report and he expressed deep concerns and call for immediate action:

“This is really bad news. Humans have lived on this planet for some 300,000 years. Are we the generation going to be responsible for our own collapse? I sincerely hope not, but hope is of little use here – what we need is action. We can’t just preserve, we must reverse the trend by increasing biodiversity locally, regionally, and globally.” says  Alexandre

Although the current situation may look like a doomsday scenario, the report also outlines a clear roadmap to sustainable development, delivering on both social and environmental goals and Alexandre means that we have the tools to act for a sustainable future, but we must learn from the past mistakes and step up our efforts: “We’ve set up ambitious biodiversity goals before – the Aichi Biodiversity targets are due next year – but despite much efforts and good examples, the report shows that the overall outcome is an almost complete failure. We must learn from that process to avoid the same mistakes. We just can’t miss this chance, else it might be our last.”

The actions outlined in the scenarios in the report require truly transformative change and, as Alexandre Antonelli commented, it is not only about preserving but also about restoring forests, land and ecosystems. In addition, the authors of the IPBES report state that reversing the negative trends requires a shift to a more sustainable global economy. How to achieve the changes that often challenge the status quo will be the focus of IPBES’ work in the nearest future.

Allisson Perrigo at Mt Visoke in Rwanda

Photo: O. Redlund

A final comment on the IPBES report from a Focali-member comes from Biodiversity researcher Allison Perrigo, the Director of GGBC – Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre: “The conclusions from the IPBES Global Assessment are shocking, but sadly not surprising. It is widely known among biodiversity researchers that human actions have strongly, and negatively, influenced Earth’s biodiversity in recent years.”

Allison hopes that the report will lead to a larger dialogue on the biodiversity crisis among the general public and stresses that actions are needed at all levels. She states that we are at a crossroads:

Right now, we need to decide – can we keep going this way? Of course not. But as the report indicates, actions need to be taken both in our backyards and in our national and international political systems in order to make large and immediate changes. It isn’t beyond hope, but the clock is ticking and simply put: each species is irreplaceable”

This news was originally published at Focali.