IPBES Global Assessment Finds We Must Act Now to Save Our Life Support System

Stefan Jungcurt Ph.D.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has released the first Global Assessment of the State of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in almost 15 years. The Assessment calls for immediate action to transform the relationships between humans and nature to prevent severe consequences and safeguard our ability to achieve the SDGs.
The Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the first intergovernmental assessment of the state of nature and its contributions to people and the first comprehensive assessment of biodiversity since the release of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005.
Current rates of nature decline will compromise our ability to achieve international goals, such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the SDGs.
Produced over three years with inputs from more than 400 scientists and based on 15,000 sources, the assessment finds that human activities have severely damaged nature and its ability to provide the food, water, energy and material resources required for human life. In most areas the rate of decline continues to accelerate, compromising our ability to achieve international goals such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the SDGs, in particular SDGs related to poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health (SDG 3), water (SDG 6), cities (SDG 11), climate (SDG 13), oceans (SDG 14) and land (SDG 15).
The Assessment’s Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) was negotiated by delegates from 132 countries during the seventh session of the IPBES Plenary (IPBES 7), held from 29 April to 4 May 2019 in Paris, France. The SPM contains a section on key messages and a section on background, providing links to the evidence summarized in the assessment report. The key messages are divided into four sub-sections.

Relationships Between Nature and Humans

The main message of this section is that nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity, and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide. While nature provides more food, energy and materials than ever before, this increasingly comes at the expense of its ability to continue providing such contributions in the future and frequently undermines other contributions. Key messages of this section include:
– Most of nature’s contributions to people (NCP) are not fully replaceable, and some are irreplaceable;
– NCP are often distributed unequally across space and time and among different segments of society;
– Since 1970, trends in agricultural production, fish harvest, bioenergy production, and harvest of materials have increased, but 14 of the 18 assessed categories of NCP, mostly regulating and non-material contributions, have declined;
* Nature across most of the globe has now been significantly altered by multiple human drivers, and biodiversity is in rapid decline; and
– Loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems.
Current Status and Trends in Nature, Nature’s Contributions to People and Drivers of Change
This section highlights that the rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history. The most important direct drivers are, in order of descending importance: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species. These direct drivers result from indirect drivers of biodiversity loss that are underpinned by societal values and behaviors relating to production and consumption patterns, human population dynamics and trends, trade, technological innovations and governance. Key messages of this section include:
– Land-use change is the largest driver of nature decline in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems;
– Climate change is a direct driver that is increasingly exacerbating the impact of other drivers;
– Many types of pollution, as well as invasive alien species, are increasing;
– Economic incentives have generally favored economic expansion over nature conservation or restoration; and
– Nature and knowledge of how to manage it is declining less rapidly on lands managed by indigenous peoples.

Goals for Conserving and Sustainably Using Nature

This section underscores that goals, such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Paris Agreement on climate change or the SDGs, cannot be met by current trajectories and can only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. Key messages of this section include:
– Despite progress, most of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 will be missed;
– Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of the assessed targets of SDGs related to poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health (SDG 3), water (SDG 6), cities (SDG 11), climate (SDG 13), oceans (SDG 14) and land (SDG 15);
– Negative effects are projected to hit primarily indigenous peoples and many of the world’s poorest communities;
– Except in scenarios that include transformative change, negative trends in nature, ecosystem functions and in many of NCP are projected to continue to 2050 and beyond; and
– Climate change is projected to become increasingly important as a direct driver of changes in nature and NCP in the coming decades.

Scenarios that Lead to a Sustainable Future

This section stresses that nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably, while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals, by enlisting individual and collective action for transformative change. By its very nature, this change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in maintaining the status quo. Key messages in this section include:
* The global environment can be safeguarded through enhanced international cooperation and linking locally relevant measures;
* Five main interventions (“levers”) can generate transformative change by tackling the underlying indirect drivers of nature deterioration: incentives and capacity building; cross-sectoral cooperation; preemptive action; decision making in the context of resilience and uncertainty; and environmental law and implementation; and
* Transformations towards sustainability are more likely when efforts are directed towards: visions of a good life; total consumption and waste; values and action; inequalities; justice and inclusion in conservation; externalities and telecouplings; technology, innovation and investment; and education, knowledge generation and sharing.
Other messages in this section focus on sustainable interventions and strategies for food and agriculture, fisheries, climate change mitigation, nature-based solutions for cities, and the financial and economic system.
The background section of the SPM provides additional information on the key messages under these four key topics, including a table with illustrative approaches for sustainability, and possible actions and pathways for achieving them.

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