The United Nations issued a report earlier this month that came to alarming conclusions about the unprecedented loss in worldwide ecosystems and the accelerating rate of species extinction occurring on the planet.

According to the UN press release, “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.” The report found that around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. 

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “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.”

Th report describes a planet in which the human footprint has been devastating.  Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human activity such as the dedication of one third of world’s land and three-quarters of water found in freshwater rivers and lakes to crop or livestock production.

The average number of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” said Sir Robert Watson. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The causes of these dramatic impacts were identified in descending order as: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

The UN Report also presents steps that can be taken to address these issues in specific sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, and finance. It highlights the importance of adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.

The report was prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) with 145 expert authors from 50 countries, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors. The report included a systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources to assess changes over the past five decades. The primary focus of this effort was to evaluate the impacts of economic development on nature and biodiversity.

Highlights of the 1,800 report can be found on the United Nations website <here>.