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Killing off animals and plants now threatens humanity itself, UN experts warn in urgent call for action

Up to a million species facing extinction in the world’s sixth mass die-off – as big a risk as climate change, say scientists

Jane Dalton
Monday 06 May 2019 13:01 BST
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg tells Extinction Rebellion supporters 'humanity is at a crossroads'

The future of humanity is under threat from the widespread destruction of the Earth’s plants and animals by people, leading scientists have warned in a dramatic report.

Loss of biodiversity threatens the human race just as much as climate change, the experts believe, with up to a million species facing extinction in the world’s sixth mass die-off.

The UN’s global assessment on the state of nature – published on Monday, and the most comprehensive of its kind – says that without urgent action, the wellbeing of current and future generations of people will be at risk as life-support systems providing food, pollination and clean water collapse.

The 1,800-page report lays out a series of future scenarios based on decisions by governments and other policymakers, and recommends a rescue plan.

It highlights how man-made activity has destroyed nature, such as forests, wetlands and other wild landscapes, damaging Earth’s capacity to renew breathable air, productive soil and drinkable water.

“The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human wellbeing,” said Sir Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in a paper previewing the report.

“Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. Policies, efforts and actions – at every level – will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence. This is what the IPBES Global Assessment provides.”

The report warns the destruction of nature threatens humanity at least as much as human-induced climate change.

Diplomats from 130 countries met in Paris to launch the report which has been in development for three years and has involved hundreds of experts.

Sir Robert told The Guardian: “There is no question we are losing biodiversity at a truly unsustainable rate that will affect human wellbeing both for current and future generations.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development.”

Many species will die out within decades, scientists say, while ocean fish are being plundered to the edge of sustainability.

The loss of pollinating insects, especially bees, will undermine supplies of food crops.

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Populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians have shrunk by 60 per cent in just over 40 years, WWF’s Living Planet Report last year said.

“The global assessment report comes at an opportune time when the world is waking up to dual threat of biodiversity loss and climate change,” said Guenter Mitlacher, a biodiversity expert at WWF Germany.

“This report will play a pivotal role in informing governments and policymakers of the risks of nature loss for future development of societies and economies.”

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