UN Report: 1 Million Species Near Extinction


Humans regularly use around 50,000 wild species, and 1 in 5 of the world’s 7.9 billion people depend on these species for food and income.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Every day, billions of people depend on wild flora and fauna for food, medicine and energy. But a new report backed by the United Nations says overexploitation, climate change, pollution and deforestation are pushing one million species towards extinction.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – or IPBES – report said on Friday that unless humanity improves the sustainable use of nature, the Earth is on course to lose 12 % of its wild tree species, more than a thousand species of wild mammals and nearly 450 species of sharks and rays, among other irreparable damage.

Humans regularly use about 50,000 wildlife species, and 1 in 5 of the world’s 7.9 billion people depend on these species for food and a living, according to the report. 1 in 3 people depend on firewood for cooking, an even higher figure in Africa.

“It is essential that these uses are sustainable, because you need them for your children and grandchildren. So when wildlife uses become unsustainable, it’s bad for the species, it’s bad for the ecosystem, and it’s bad for people,” said report co-chair Marla R. Emery. of the United States to the Associated Press.

Beyond the bleak picture, the report also provides recommendations for policy makers and examples of sustainable use of wild fauna and flora. A central point should be to secure the land rights of indigenous and local peoples, who have historically made sustainable use of wildlife, according to the report.

According to the study, indigenous peoples occupy about 38,000,000 square kilometers (14,600,000 square miles) of land in 87 countries, equivalent to about 40 percent of terrestrial conserved areas.

“Their lands tend to do better in sustainability than other lands. And the common thread is the ability to continue to engage in customary practices,” said Emery, who is also a researcher with the US Forest Service.

Emery argued that it is essential to secure national and international systems, such as education, that promote the preservation of indigenous languages, as they maintain the ability of older members to transfer traditional knowledge about sustainable practices to new generations.

An example of good practice is fishing for arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, in the Brazilian Amazon, report co-chair Jean-Marc Fromentin of France told the AP.

“It was the transition from an unsustainable situation to a sustainable one,” Fromentin said. “Some communities in Brazil created community management and then called scientists to learn more about the biology of the fish and set up an effective monitoring system. It worked so well that the model went to other communities and countries like Peru.”

Gregorio Mirabal, the head of the coordinator of indigenous organizations in the Amazon basin, who was not involved in the report, told the AP that there have already been several UN studies highlighting the importance of biodiversity and the threats posed by climate change, but they do not provide solutions.

The indigenous leader mentioned growing problems in the region, such as contamination of water from mercury used in illegal mining and oil spills. Additionally, those who oppose these practices face violence, such as the recent murder of an indigenous warrior in a mining area in Venezuela.

“There is irrational exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon, but there is no social investment to improve the health, educational, cultural and food situation of indigenous peoples,” Mirabal said.

The report was endorsed by representatives of the 139 member countries meeting this week in Bonn, Germany. It involved dozens of experts, from scientists to indigenous knowledge holders. IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body and is not part of the United Nations system, but is supported by the United Nations Environment Program and other bodies.


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