Biodiversity and nature’s benefits continue dangerous decline, scientists warn; Destruction of nature as dangerous as climate change, scientists warn

  • Unsustainable exploitation of the natural world threatens food and water security of billions of people, major UN-backed biodiversity study reveals
  • 75% of Earth’s land areas are degraded– new report warns that environmental damage threatens the well-being of 3.2 billion people. Yet solutions are within reach.
  • Climate change will be the fastest-growing cause of species loss in the Americas by midcentury, according to this new set of reports from the leading global organization on ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the main driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and impacting food security, water purification, the provision of energy, and other contributions of nature essential to people. This has reached “critical levels” in many parts of the world…Wetlands have been hit hardest, with 87 percent lost globally in the last 300 years…Wetlands continue to be destroyed in Southeast Asia and the Congo region of Africa, mainly to plant oil palm.
  • Landmark reports highlight options to protect and restore nature and its vital contributions to people.

March 23 2018 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) See National Geographic story here; See GuardianUK news coverage here;  Read ScienceDaily article here

Biodiversity — the essential variety of life forms on Earth — continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s well-being. This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere, according to four landmark science reports written by more than 550 leading experts, from over 100 countries.

Read the 5th new IPBES assessment report press release, on global land degradation and restoration report here.


  • Projections include:
    • The unprecedented growth in consumption, demography and technology will roughly quadruple the global economy in the first half of the twenty-first century.
    • Unless urgent and concerted action is taken, land degradation will worsen in the face of population growth, unprecedented consumption, an increasingly globalized economy, and climate change.
    • Land degradation and climate change are likely to force 50 to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.
    • By 2050, land degradation and climate change will reduce crop yields by an average of 10% globally, and up to 50% in certain regions.
    • The capacity of rangelands to support livestock will continue to diminish in the future, due to both land degradation and loss of rangeland area.
    • Biodiversity loss is projected to reach 38–46% by 2050.
  • Opportunities to accelerate action identified in the report include:
    • Improving monitoring, verification systems and baseline data;
    • Coordinating policy between different ministries to simultaneously encourage more sustainable production and consumption practices of land-based commodities;
    • Eliminating ‘perverse incentives’ that promote land degradation and promoting positive incentives that reward sustainable land management; and
    • Integrating the agricultural, forestry, energy, water, infrastructure and service agendas.
  • Remedial Options
    1. National and international responses to land degradation are often focused on mitigating damage already caused….Land degradation is rarely, if ever, the result of a single cause and can thus only be addressed through the simultaneous and coordinated use of diverse policy instruments and responses at the institutional, governance, community and individual levels.
    2. Land managers, including indigenous peoples and local communities, have key roles to play in the design, implementation and evaluation of sustainable land management practices.
    3. Proven approaches to halting and reversing land degradation include:
    • Urban planning, replanting with native species, green infrastructure development, remediation of contaminated and sealed soils (e.g. under asphalt), wastewater treatment and river channel restoration.
    • Better, more open-access information on the impacts of traded commodities.
    • Coordinated policy agendas that simultaneously encourage more sustainable consumption of land-based commodities.
    • Eliminating perverse incentives that promote degradation – subsidies that reward overproduction, for example – and devising positive incentives that reward the adoption of sustainable land management practices.
    • Rangelands:
      • Land capability and condition assessments and monitoring
      • Grazing pressure management
      • Pasture and forage crop improvement
      • Silvopastoral management
      • Weed and pest management
      • Rangelands with traditional grazing in many dryland regions have benefitted from maintaining appropriate fire regimes and the reinstatement or development of local livestock management practices and institutions. A variety of passive or active forest management and restoration techniques have successfully conserved biodiversity and avoided forest degradation while yielding multiple economic, social and environmental benefits.
    • Combating land degradation resulting from invasive species involves the identification and monitoring of invasion pathways and the adoption of eradication and control measures (mechanical, cultural, biological and chemical).
    • Responses to land degradation from mineral resource extraction include:
      • on-site management of mining wastes (soils and water)
      • reclamation of mine site topography
      • conservation and early replacement of topsoil
      • restoration and rehabilitation measures to recreate functioning grassland, forest, wetland and other ecosystems

    4. Examples of well-tested practices and techniques, both traditional and modern, to halt degradation of agricultural lands include:

    • Effective responses to avoid, reduce and reverse wetland degradation include:
      • controlling point and diffuse pollution sources
      • adopting integrated land and water management strategies; and
      • restoring wetland hydrology, biodiversity, and ecosystem functions through passive and active restoration measures, such as constructed wetlands


Here is the America’s report from the IPBES- Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

By the numbers- The Americas:

Trends / data

  • 13%: the Americas’ share of world’s human population
  • 40%: share of world ecosystems’ capacity to produce nature-based materials consumed by people, and to assimilate by-products from their consumption
  • 65%: the proportion of nature’s contributions to people, across all units of analysis, in decline (with 21% declining strongly)
  • >50%: share of the Americas’ population with a water security problem
  • 61%: languages and associated cultures, in trouble or dying out
  • >95%: North American tall grass prairie grasslands transformed into human-dominated landscapes since pre-European settlement
  • 72% and 66% respectively: of tropical dry forest in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean have been transformed into human-dominated landscapes since pre-European settlement
  • 88%: Atlantic tropical forest transformed into human-dominated landscapes since pre-European settlement
  • 17%: Amazon forest transformed into human-dominated landscapes since pre-European settlement
  • 50%: decrease in renewable freshwater available per person since the 1960s
  • 200-300%: Increase in humanity’s ecological footprint in each subregion of the Americas since the 1960s
  • 9.5% and 25%: Forest areas lost in South America and Mesoamerica respectively since the 1960s
  • 0.4% and 43.4%: net gains in forest areas in North America and the Caribbean respectively since the 1960s
  • 1.5 million: approximate number of Great Plains grassland hectares loss from 2014 to 2015
  • 2.5 million: hectares under cultivation in Brazil’s northeast agricultural frontier in 2013, up from 1.2 million ha in 2003, with 74% of these new croplands taken from intact cerrado (tropical savanna) in that region
  • 15-60%: North American drylands habitat lost between 2000 and 2009
  • >50%: US wetlands lost since European settlement (up to 90% lost in agricultural regions)
  • >50%: decline in coral reef cover by the 1970s; only 10% remained by 2003

Economic value of nature’s contributions to people

  • $24.3 trillion: estimated value per year of terrestrial nature’s contributions to people in the Americas (equivalent to the region’s gross domestic product)
  • $6.8, $5.3 and $3.6 trillion per year: nature’s contributions to people valued as ecosystem services in Brazil, USA and Canada respectively
  • >$500 million: annual cost of managing the impacts of invasive alien zebra mussels on infrastructure for power, water supply and transportation in the Great Lakes….