Saturday January 18, 2020

UN Report: Upto 1 Million Species Face Extinction Because of Human Influence

“We need to recognize that climate change and loss of nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well”

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humans, extinction
Climate change activists stage a protest outside the H M Treasury building in central London, April 25, 2019, during environmental protests by the Extinction Rebellion group. VOA

Up to 1 million species face extinction because of human influence, according to a draft U.N. report obtained by AFP that painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends.

The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish and storm-blocking mangroves — to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by nature — poses no less of a threat than climate change, says the report, set to be unveiled May 6.

Indeed, biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers, which distills a 1,800-page U.N. assessment of scientific literature on the state of nature.

Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line. Wording may change, but figures lifted from the underlying report cannot be altered.

“We need to recognize that climate change and loss of nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well,” Robert Watson, chair of the U.N.-mandated body that compiled the report, told AFP, without divulging its findings.

“The way we produce our food and energy is undermining the regulating services that we get from nature,” he said, adding that only “transformative change” can stem the damage.

Deforestation and agriculture, including livestock production, account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and have wreaked havoc on natural ecosystems as well.

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Activists sing songs at the Extinction Rebellion group’s environmental protest camp at Marble Arch in London, April 25, 2019, during the group’s protest calling for political change to combat climate change. VOA

‘Mass extinction event’

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report warns of “an imminent rapid acceleration in the global rate of species extinction.”

The pace of loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years,” it notes.

“Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades,” it continues.

Many experts think a so-called “mass extinction event” — only the sixth in the last half-billion years — is already under way.

The most recent saw the end of the Cretaceous period some 66 million years ago, when a 10-kilometerwide asteroid strike wiped out most life forms.

Scientists estimate that Earth is today home to about 8 million distinct species, a majority of them insects.

A quarter of catalogued animal and plant species are being crowded, eaten or poisoned out of existence.

The drop in sheer numbers is even more dramatic, with wild mammal biomass — their collective weight — down by 82 percent.

Humans and livestock account for more than 95 percent of mammal biomass.

humans, extinction
Climate change activists demonstrate opposite the Bank of England in the financial district in London, April 25, 2019, during environmental protests by the Extinction Rebellion group. VOA

Population growth

“If we’re going to have a sustainable planet that provides services to communities around the world, we need to change this trajectory in the next 10 years, just as we need to do that with climate,” noted WWF chief scientist Rebecca Shaw, formerly a member of the U.N. scientific bodies for both climate and biodiversity.

The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds.

“There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change: the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume,” Watson said.

Once seen as primarily a future threat to animal and plant life, the disruptive impact of global warming has accelerated.

Shifts in the distribution of species, for example, will likely double if average temperature go up a notch from 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) to 2C.

So far, the global thermometer has risen 1C compared with mid-19th century levels.

The 2015 Paris Agreement enjoins nations to cap the rise to “well below” 2C. But a landmark U.N. climate report in October said that would still be enough to boost the intensity and frequency of deadly heat waves, droughts, floods and storms.

Global inequity

Other findings in the report include:

  • Three-quarters of land surfaces, 40 percent of the marine environment, and 50 percent of inland waterways across the globe have been “severely altered.”
  • Many of the areas where Nature’s contribution to human wellbeing will be most severely compromised are home to indigenous peoples and the world’s poorest communities that are also vulnerable to climate change.
  • More than 2 billion people rely on wood fuel for energy, 4 billion rely on natural medicines, and more than 75 percent of global food crops require animal pollination.
  • Nearly half of land and marine ecosystems have been profoundly compromised by human interference in the last 50 years.
  • Subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining and the production of biofuel or fossil fuel energy encourage waste, inefficiency and overconsumption.

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The report cautioned against climate change solutions that may inadvertently harm nature.

The use, for example, of biofuels combined with “carbon capture and storage” — the sequestration of CO2 released when biofuels are burned — is widely seen as key in the transition to green energy on a global scale.

But the land needed to grow all those biofuel crops may wind up cutting into food production, the expansion of protected areas or reforestation efforts. (VOA)

Next Story

Marine Animals Can Help Humans Monitor Oceans: Study

A new study found that certain species of animals can help humans monitor oceans

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Animals such as sharks, penguins, turtles and other seagoing species could help humans monitor oceans. Pixabay

Sharks, penguins, turtles and other seagoing species could help humans monitor the oceans by transmitting oceanographic information from electronic tags, a new study suggests.

A team led by the University of Exeter in UK said animals carrying sensors can fill many of these gaps through natural behaviour such as diving under ice, swimming in shallow water or moving against currents.

“We want to highlight the massive potential of animal-borne sensors to teach us about the oceans,” said lead author David March from the University.

“This is already happening on a limited scale, but there’s scope for much more,” March said.

Thousands of marine animals are tagged for a variety of research and conservation purposes, but at present the information gathered isn’t widely used to track climate change and other shifts in the oceans.

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These species can monitor the ocean by transmitting oceanographic information from electronic tags. Pixabay

Instead, monitoring is mostly done by research vessels, underwater drones and thousands of floating sensors that drift with the currents. However, large areas of the ocean still remain under-sampled – leaving gaps in our knowledge.

By comparing this with gaps in current observations by drifting profiling sensors (known as Argo floats) the researchers identified poorly sampled areas where data from animal sensors would help fill gaps.

“We looked at 183 species – including tuna, sharks, rays, whales and flying seabirds – and the areas they are known to inhabit. We have processed more than 1.5 million measurements from floating sensors to identify poorly sampled areas (18.6% of the global ocean surface),” March added.

These include seas near the poles (above 60º latitude) and shallow and coastal areas where Argo profilers are at risk of hitting the land.

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Data collected by marine animals could also enhance oceans monitoring in other remote and critical areas such as tropical regions. Pixabay

According to the researchers, the Caribbean and seas around Indonesia, as well as other semi-enclosed seas, are good examples of places where Argo profilers struggle because of these problems.

Tagged seals in the poles have already complemented ocean observing systems because they can reach areas under ice that are inaccessible to other instruments.

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The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, suggests data collected by turtles or sharks could also enhance ocean monitoring in other remote and critical areas such as tropical regions, with large influence on global climate variability and weather.

The researchers said their work is a call for further collaboration between ecologists and oceanographers. (IANS)