Welcome to the Anthropocene, an epoch of the natural world that’s defined by the actions of humans and industrial activities. In the latest chapter of this new era, between 500,000 and 1 million species face extinction due to humans.
This is the main finding of an upcoming report by the United Nations (UN), a draft of which was recently obtained by AFP.
The rate of biodiversity loss "is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years," the draft report notes, according to AFP. "Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades."
The report, produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), details the state of biodiversity through assessing independent scientific research on the matter. The draft copy is written, but delegates from all UN member states will gather in Paris on April 29 to fine-tune the final wording. The official report is set to be released on May 6.
So far, the conclusions of the report are damning. The world’s biodiversity faces numerous threats associated with human behavior, ranging from climate change, loss of habitat due to changes in land use, pollution, and over-exploitation.
Another key finding of the report is that 75 percent of land surfaces, 40 percent of the marine environment, and 50 percent of inland waterways have been "severely altered" over the past 50 years. As a result, almost half of all land and marine ecosystems have been “profoundly compromised.”
As various studies have shown, including those referred to in this new report, the world is just beginning a sixth mass extinction event. Previous mass extinction events – the last of which was the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago – have resulted from cataclysmic natural disasters, such as asteroid impacts or volcanic activity, or colossal long-term shifts in atmospheric and oceanic conditions. The new mass extinction event that’s already underway is almost entirely driven by human activity, most notably human-induced climate change and habitat destruction.
The future of the world’s biodiversity rests heavily on how much greenhouse gas we continue to emit and the extent of global warming. Average global temperatures have already warmed 1°C above pre-industrial levels and we’re now faced with two scenarios: a 1.5°C rise or a 2°C rise. A difference of just 0.5°C might not sound like much, but the effect on wildlife would be profound.
The UN’s landmark climate change report, which was published in October 2018, found that 6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants, and 4 percent of vertebrates are projected to be negatively affected by global warming of 1.5°C, namely due to shrinkage of their natural geographic range. However, in a 2°C scenario, 18 percent of insects, 16 percent of plants, and 8 percent of vertebrates would go extinct.