Jun 19, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

Report States Agriculture is One of Earth’s Biggest Threats

May 09, 2019 08:24 PM EDT

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Without drastic action to protect natural environments, the rate of species extinction will only increase, says analysts. The findings come from a United Nations-backed panel called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services or IPBES. According to the report, agricultural activities have had the largest impact on ecosystems that people depend on for food, clean water and a stable climate. The loss of species and habitats poses as much a danger to life on Earth as climate change does, says a summary of the work, released on 6 May.

The analysis extracts findings from nearly 15,000 studies and government reports, integrating information from the natural and social sciences, Indigenous peoples and traditional agricultural communities. It is the first major international appraisal of biodiversity since 2005. Representatives of 132 governments met last week in Paris to finalize and approve the analysis.

Biodiversity should be at the top of the global agenda alongside climate, said Anne Larigauderie, IPBES executive secretary, "We can no longer say that we did not know,"

"We have never had a single unified statement from the world's governments that unambiguously makes clear the crisis we are facing for life on Earth," says Thomas Brooks, chief scientist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Gland, Switzerland, who helped to edit the biodiversity analysis. "That is really the absolutely key novelty that we see here."

Without "transformative changes" to the world's economic, social and political systems to address this crisis, the IPBES panel projects that major biodiversity losses will continue to 2050 and beyond. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," says IPBES chair Robert Watson, an atmospheric chemist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

About 75 percent of land and 66 percent of ocean areas have been "significantly altered" by people, driven in large part by the production of food, according to the IPBES report. Crop and livestock operations currently co-opt more than 33 percent of Earth's land surface and 75 percent of its freshwater resources.

The biggest threats to nature are the exploitation of plants and animals through harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing; climate change; pollution and the spread of invasive species. The IPBES report finds that the average abundance of native plants, animals and insects has fallen in most major ecosystems by at least 20 percent since 1900 because of invasive species-humans being the most invasive.

The report draws links between biodiversity loss and climate change. An estimated five percent of all species would be threatened with extinction by two degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels-a threshold that the world could breach in the next few decades, unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced. Earth could lose 16 percent of its species if the average global temperature rise exceeds more than four degrees Celsius. Such damage to ecosystems would undermine global efforts to reduce poverty and hunger and promote more-sustainable development, the IPBES report says.

The IPBES report will help to set the agenda when governments negotiate new conservation goals for the next decade at the UN Convention on Biodiversity next year.

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