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We're going to lose a lot of species by 2050, U.N. report finds

Biodiversity and nature are "at the heart not only of our survival but of our cultures, identities, and enjoyment of life.”

A panel of scientists commissioned by the U.N. just published a comprehensive three-year study assessing the regional impacts of humans on biodiversity around the world. And the situation is looking pretty grim — not just for animals but also for the people who rely on them, the report says.

Presented at a gathering of U.N. scientists in Medellín, Colombia Friday, the report focuses on four regions: Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia. That’s the entire globe with the except for the poles and the oceans. Everywhere, the reports find, biodiversity, the variety of species in a particular place, is declining. And a new culprit — human-caused climate change — is playing an increasingly significant role.


Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the U.N. working group that issued the report, stressed that the report wasn’t just about animals — biodiversity is crucial for us humans, too.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives,” said Robert Watson, the chair of the group that produced the study, in a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival but of our cultures, identities, and enjoyment of life.”

Under a “business as usual” scenario, the report says that climate change will be the primary driver of loss of biodiversity in the Americas by 2050, surpassing land use.

“By 2100, climate change could also result in the loss of more than half of African bird and mammal species,” said Emma Archer, co-chair of the African regional study.

In Southeast Asia 90 percent of coral reefs will be severely degraded by 2050 under the most conservative of climate change scenarios. In a region where people rely on the oceans for food and livelihood — and where they live in coastal regions that are more likely to flood — the next half century isn’t looking great.

Europe may fare a little better than the other regions, but that’s not saying very much. Half the region’s wetlands are gone, and just under a third of its species show an “unfavorable conservation status.

The report doesn’t paint a rosy picture of global biodiversity, but it does point toward some promising policies that could help us recover, if only incompletely. A combination of policy options — like incorporating biodiversity into national welfare estimates, rather than relying solely on gross domestic product and improved public awareness programs — can help protect the biodiversity that remains.

And richer ecosystems are a bulwark against some of the extremes that climate change will bring with it in the coming decades.

“Richer, more diverse ecosystems are better able to cope with disturbances — such as extreme events and the emergence of diseases,” said Anne Larigauderie, the executive secretary of IPBES. “They are our ‘insurance policy’ against unforeseen disasters and, used sustainably, they also offer many of the best solutions to our most pressing challenges.”

Cover image: This May 3, 2017, photo, shows Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya. Sudan has died after "age-related complications," researchers announced Tuesday, March 20, 2018, saying he "stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength." (AP Photo)