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World leaders and scientists commit to biodiversity: Focali members comment on the IPBES Global Assessment

Photo by: Dominik Lange on Unsplash

World leaders and scientists commit to biodiversity: Focali members comment on the IPBES Global Assessment

The IPBES report on the state of our biodiversity paints a dark picture - species are going extinct at a rate tens to hundreds of times faster than the average over the last 10 million years. “The report’s message is clear. What we need now is massive, transformative and globally coordinated changes across all levels of society. We can’t just preserve, we must reverse the trend by increasing biodiversity locally, regionally and globally” says Director of Science at Kew Gardens, London and Focali-member, Prof. Alexandre Antonelli.

On Monday the 7th of May 2019, the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released their first worldwide report on the state of our biodiversity. The message was clear: the situation is dire and there are clear actions we must take now.

 “The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” Robert Watson, the chair of the IPBES told The Guardian.

The report reveals that species are going extinct at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years. It indicates that around 1 million of the world’s ca. 8 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction.

Marie Stenseke Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Marie Stenseke Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Focali-member Marie Stenseke, Professor in Human Geography at University of Gothenburg, is the co-chair of IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP), which is made up of 25 members from all over the world. MEP is a core body within IPBES, overseeing all IPBES scientific and technical functions, including the Global Assessment process. Marie has further been closely engaged in the conceptual evolution within IPBES as broadening the approach from ecosystem services to nature's contributions to people.

She told Focali that “Since the IPBES report is not presenting new research but builds on previous studies, the alarming situation is already known among researchers. Therefore, the biggest news is perhaps that the report has been approved by 132 countries all over the world. The approval makes them, in a sense, committed to action. It can no longer be said ‘We did not know’, nor ‘We did not know what to do to stop the degrading of nature’.”

As part of the management committee of IPBES global assessment Marie Stenseke, highlights that the IPBES report is not only an assessment of trends in biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. The report also includes assessments of measures to be taken in order to change from the current negative trends towards more sustainable ones. “It is a truly interdisciplinary piece of work, with high scientific credibility from a breadth of disciplinary perspectives.” she explains and adds that the report does not only bridge academic disciplines but “spearheads new paths in assessing indigenous and local knowledge together with scientific knowledge. Illuminating alternative perspectives on humans’ relations to the rest of nature compared to the common western ones and embracing diverse visions of a good life could enable necessary transformative societal changes.”

That global transformative societal changes well beyond “business as usual” are needed becomes clear when looking at the presentation of main causes attributed to the biodiversity losses. These are: 1) Land/Sea Use Change 2) Direct Exploitation 3) Climate Change 4) Pollution 5) Invasive Species

These are all underpinned by activities that can be directly linked to humans – production and consumption patterns, trade and technological innovations. The results of the assessment, the drivers and needed measures pin-points how this is an issue that affects all of us and consequences as well as needed measures spans through multiple sectors of humanity.

Maria Ölund Photo: Anna Edlund

Maria Ölund Photo: Anna Edlund

Maria Ölund, Coordinator of the Focali research network says: “We all need to understand that biodiversity is not a separate “environment” issue or about protection of great animals that we want to be able to see during safaris. No, it’s about the very fabric of our existence that we are now thinning out - as the role of pollinators and microorganisms for our food production. It´s all connected and climate change adds pressure on impacted ecosystems - we thus need urgent action across disciplines, sectors and regions to address this intertwined crisis.”

The Focali research network includes researchers from multiple disciplines that come together to tackle complex and linked challenges such as the links between forest/land-use, biodiversity, climate and livelihoods. The researchers in the network have rich experience of interacting with stakeholders and policy makers in different sectors of society to find measures to the identified challenges. Several of the researchers in the network focus on analyzing how deforestation in tropical forest regions are impacted by global consumption patterns.

Palm oil in West Kalimantan, indonesia. Photo: Nanang Sujana CIFOR

Palm oil in West Kalimantan, indonesia. Photo: Nanang Sujana CIFOR

As the IPBES report points out expansion of agriculture into intact ecosystems is a main driver behind the rapid loss of habitats for species at risk of extinction. 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost from 1980 to 2000, resulting mainly from cattle ranching in Latin America and plantations in South-East Asia of which 80% is for palm oil.

Alexandre Antonelli

Alexandre Antonelli

Focali-member Alexandre Antonelli has done extensive research on Amazonian biodiversity. He is Professor in Systematics and Biodiversity at University of Gothenburg and Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London. Focali asked him to comment on the findings of the IPBES report and he expressed deep concerns and call for immediate action: This is really bad news. We have lived on this planet for some 300,000 years. Are we the generation going to be responsible for our own collapse? I sincerely hope not, but hope is of little use here – what we need is action. We can’t just preserve, we must reverse the trend by increasing biodiversity locally, regionally, and globally. The report’s message is clear. What we need now is massive, transformative and globally coordinated changes across all levels of society.  

Although the current situation may look like a doomsday scenario, the report also outlines a strong roadmap for sustainable development to deliver on both social and environmental goals and Alexandre means that we have the tools to act for a sustainable future, but we must learn from past mistakes and step up our efforts: “We’ve set up ambitious biodiversity goals before – due to be met by next year – but despite much efforts and good examples, the report shows that the overall outcome is an almost complete failure. We must learn from that process to not make the same mistakes. We just can’t miss this chance ­– else it might be our last.”

The actions needed according to scenarios presented in the report are truly transformative change and as Alexandre Antonelli commented it is not only about preserving but also restoring forests, land and ecosystems. In addition the authors of the IPBES report state that reversing the negative trends requires a shift to a more sustainable global economy. How to achieve such needed changes that often challenge status quo will be the focus of IPBES work now after this global assessment report.

Allisson Perrigo

Allisson Perrigo

A final comment on the IPBES report, from a Focali-member, comes from Biodiversity researcher Allison Perrigo. She is the Director of GGBC - Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre: “The conclusions from the IPBES Global Assessment are shocking, but sadly not surprising. It is widely known among biodiversity researchers that human actions have strongly, and negatively, influenced Earth’s biodiversity in recent years.

Allison’s hope is that the report will lead to a larger dialogue on the biodiversity crisis in the general public  and stress that actions are needed at all levels. She states that we are at a crossroad: "Right now we need to decide - can we keep going this way? Of course not. But as the report indicates, actions need to be taken both in our backyards and in our national and international political systems in order to make large and immediate changes. It isn’t beyond hope, but the clock is ticking and simply put: each species is irreplaceable."

Photo: Allisson Perrigo

Photo: Allisson Perrigo


 








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