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22 May 2020

Biodiversity Loss Threatens Both the Planet and the Human Race

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In 2000, the United Nations chose May 22nd as the date to celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity, in commemoration of the anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), signed in 1992.​

Biological diversity encompasses the variety of all life forms on Earth. Today, biodiversity is the result of millions of years of evolution shaped by natural processes, and increasingly by the interplay with humans. Biodiversity sustains the many activities and products that feed the existence of humankind as a species: food, fuel, the microorganisms with which we coexist, climatic conditions, droughts, floods, the pollination of crops, agriculture, the emergence of new diseases and plagues, the discovery of new medications, and even genetic data, and humankind’s capacity to adapt to new environments. 

Almost half (47%) of land mammals and a quarter (23%) of birds that are in danger of extinction will have been negatively impacted by climate change, according to the United Nations./ Image: Unsplash

2020: an Inflection Point in Biodiversity Strategy

2020 will go down in history as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a disease caused by zoonosis (animal transmission) made it blatantly clear that there is an undeniable correlation between health, the environment, and climate change. Apart from this overshadowing global event, 2020 was already a landmark date on the global biodiversity agenda. This year marked the end of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity and also brought to a close both the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020  and the Aichi targets, representing a collective effort on the part of international institutions to halt the devastation of the world’s biological wealth, devastation that is manifest in the loss of various species of flora and fauna.

The interaction of all earthly life forms and the different ecosystems where they occur is what has made our planet a unique place for human existence.

The baseline numbers on specie extinction and the decline in biological variety are so significant that scientists are already debating whether we are on the verge of the sixth great extinction.

More than 85 percent of wetlands that existed in 1700 have been lost, according to the UN. / Image: Unsplash

According to the UN, one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction. In its 2018 Living Planet Report, the conservation organization WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) estimated that since 1970 vertebrate specie populations have suffered an average decline of 60 percent.  The United Nations also stresses that more than a third of all marine mammals, 40 percent of amphibians, and 33 percent of the Earth’s coral is at risk due to the human impact on nature. 

Future projections are far from rosy. A report produced by the Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reveals that of the species that are now threatened with extinction, many could disappear in mere decades. The United Nations calls it, “a threat of unprecedented dimension in human history,” 

How We Got Here

In 2019, more than 400 experts from 50 different countries working on behalf of the UN, published a historic report in which they classified (in order of importance) the five biggest contributors to the destruction of our natural environment. The production of raw materials and the exploitation of the planet’s natural resources are fundamental factors. The way humankind has “taken advantage” of resources on land and in the sea has, through the evolution of activities related to agriculture, livestock, fishing, oceanic mining, etc., disturbed 75 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial environment and close to 66 percent of the marine environment, according to UN figures. 

Demographics and Natural Resources

The world’s growing population has led to an inevitable increase in the exploitation of different resources. According to current UN estimates, some 60 billion tons of both renewable and nonrenewable resources are exploited each year, as a result of the increased demand for animals, plants, fuels, minerals, etc.

Climate Change

Contamination of the air, water, and soil has a comprehensive impact on biodiversity. The United Nations calculates that since 1980, plastic waste has multiplied by ten. Additionally, each year between 300 and 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sewage, and other waste are dumped into our waters, representing a shock to oceanic ecosystems where a minimum of 267 species will have been affected.

Pollution is the overarching cause and consequence of all the factors feeding into the loss of biodiversity


Air, water and soil pollution conditions biodiversity in all its forms. The United Nations has determined that, since 1980, plastic waste has multiplied by ten, and in addition, between 300 and 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other waste are discharged annually in waters around the world, changes in ocean ecosystems that would have affected a minimum of 267 species.

The United Nations recognizes that the consequences of plastic micro and nano particles entering the planet’s food chain is still not reliably known. / Image: Unsplash

Invasive species

Globalization has come hand-in-hand with an increase of air and maritime traffic, which also implies an increased population and resource exchange between countries with very different natural habitats. These increasingly mobile resources include exotic flora and fauna species that, outside their natural habitat, represent a direct threat to the health of the planet and even the human race. The United Nations calculates that the accumulative records of exotic species has jumped 40 percent since 1980.

Science and Policy Provide Some Hope

The United Nations sustains the belief that the only solution to reverse the damage done is to redefine our relationship with nature. In spite of all the scientific accomplishments and techniques over the last decades, the human species fully depends on healthy, living ecosystems. So, the starting point for stressing awareness, solidarity, and cooperation in order to build a sustainable future lies in the idea that nature holds the answers.

In parallel, the loss of biodiversity has plunged the markets and is recognized as a major impediment to economic progress. Institutions like the World Economic Forum already recognize that “the loss of biodiversity is a business risk”  and according to UN estimates, the negative trend in the evolution of ecosystem and biodiversity issues will undermine the progress of 80 percent of the challenges enumerated in eight sustainable development objectives.

The challenges for the next decade will be established in the United Nations strategy with regard to the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, both of which are kicked off this year. It is also hoped that a Biodiversity Summit will be held before 2020 comes to a close. The aim would be to muster support for a global post-2020 biodiversity framework. At the beginning of the year, the Convention on Biological Diversity released a draft of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which sets out the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of land and marine biodiversity through 2030.

Dory Gascueña for OpenMind


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