Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday in the United Nations' first comprehensive report on biodiversity.
For the past week, scientists from around the globe have met in Paris to come up with an authoritative statement. The summary from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services must be unanimously approved by more than 100 nations.
The report released Monday says species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. More than half a million species on land lack sufficient habitat for long-term survival and are likely to go extinct, maybe within decades. The oceans are not any better off.
Researchers say the problem traces back to humanity, but it's not too late to fix it. Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land "have insufficient habitat for long-term survival" and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off. At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. More than 40 percent of the world's amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction. The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that's becoming harder for humans to live in, said Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.
The report's 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:
n Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth's land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85 percent of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.
Overfishing the world's oceans. A third of the world's fish stocks are overfished.
Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world's land mammals - not including bats and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.
Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world's waters.
Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70 percent since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species. The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species.
The IUCN calculated in March that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants.
Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth. However, the report goes beyond species. Of the 18 measured ways nature helps humans, the report said 14 are declining, with food and energy production noticeable exceptions. The report found downward trends in nature's ability to provide clean air and water, good soil and other essentials.