Coming soon: Fateful update on the state of nature

White-bellied cinclodes (Cinclodes palliatus). Dominic Sherony/Flickr.
17 April 2019

Cryptic treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti). Alagoas foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaesi). Black-faced honeycreeper (Melamprosops phaeosoma).

Say their names now before they are forgotten.

The three songbird species – the first two from Brazil, the last from Hawaii – became officially extinct in 2018, according to a Birdlife International study released late last year.

As consumption levels skyrocket and the world’s population grows, human impact on the natural world is accelerating. Entire populations of species are being lost faster than ever before.

It’s not just the birds that have cause for concern here. As rivers are dammed and drained, and as too much is taken from the oceans and forests that keep the climate in check, humans are ‘sawing off the branch we’re sitting on,’ compromising survival by preventing the planet from being able to meet our needs.

“The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being,” said Sir Robert Watson, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in a statement. “Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come.”

But many commentators feel that global momentum around these issues has been relatively slow as compared to other environmental topics such as climate change. So according to Watson, synthesizing and sharing what we know already – and what we don’t – is an important part of stepping things up: “Policies, efforts and actions at every level will only succeed… when based on the best knowledge and evidence.”

On 6 May, the IPBES will release a new global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services at the close of its seventh plenary session at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, as the first assessment of its kind since 2005. It will show, more than ever before, where the planet stands with biodiversity and ecosystem services – and where it needs to go.

Over the past three years, 150 experts from more than 50 countries have pored over 15,000 sources – including scientific papers and government information as well as, for the first time, Indigenous and local knowledge – to compile the most comprehensive report on the topic to date.

The detailed findings of the report are still under wraps but will evaluate changes over the past 50 years; chart the implications for economies, livelihoods, food security and quality of life; and rank the relative impacts of climate change, invasive species, pollution, sea and land use change, and a range of other challenges to nature.

The report will also project what biodiversity could look like in decades ahead under six future scenarios and consider the tradeoffs and synergies of various pathways toward meeting the global targets such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

This information will inform countries’ current negotiations for a new global biodiversity framework under the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, which will lay down a global strategy for protecting nature over the following decade. Proponents are hoping the framework will represent a “New Deal for Nature”: a movement that captures public, business and political imaginations and sets out simple targets to which the general public can contribute.

Hopefully, such a movement will mean we’ll keep hearing the names – and songs – of critically-endangered species like the white-bellied cinclodes (Cinclodes palliatus), the rufous-fronted laughingthrush (Garrulax rufifrons) and the Cerulean paradise flycatcher (Eutrichomyias rowleyi) for generations to come.



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