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Scientists Alarmed by Damage to World's Biodiversity

France's Minister of Ecology Francois de Rugy, delivers a speech at the opening of an international conference on biodiversity (IPBES) in Paris on April 29, 2019.
France's Minister of Ecology Francois de Rugy, delivers a speech at the opening of an international conference on biodiversity (IPBES) in Paris on April 29, 2019.

Officials from 132 nations have been gathering in Paris to look at the state of biodiversity around the world. The meeting is the 7th session of the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which will culminate with the presentation of a huge report when the meeting concludes on May 4.

The task is enormous. The challenges even more. About 150 scientists have worked to establish a detailed assessment of the current state of global biodiversity. The 1,800-page report, the first inventory in 15 years, is expected to become a scientific reference in biodiversity

A quarter of the 100,000 species assessed, a tiny portion of the estimated 8 million on Earth, are already threatened with extinction. But "an imminent rapid acceleration in the rate of species extinction" is expected by scientists, according to the draft report. And between 500,000 and one million are expected to become threatened, including "many in the coming decades."

The roots of the problem are well known : climate change and human activities. In 2018, a World Wildlife Fund report indicated that half of all wildlife species have disappeared in just 40 years. Deforestation, pesticide use, fishing, are among the culprits.

The report alleges that human activity as a whole is responsible for a 60 percent decline in global wildlife between 1970 and 2014.

"The conversion and destruction of natural habitats, for example for agriculture, and also by direct exploitation of animals and plants, through hunting, fishing or forestry," says Thomas Brooks, the International Union For Conservation of Nature's chief scientist.

The warning from scientists and officials gathering here is that by destroying their own planet, people are also threatening mankind — and hurting people.

"The continued loss of biodiversity will undermine the ability of most countries to achieve most of the sustainable development goals. In particular, it will undermine our ability for poverty reduction, food and water security, human health and the overall goal of leaving nobody behind," says Bob Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosytem Services.

"The loss of living nature, the loss of biodiversity is something that has dramatic and negative implications for all people in all countries," says Brooks. "It is well documented that the most severe impacts of the loss of biodiversity are felt by the people who have the fewest resources to be able to respond to those losses."

This gathering is the first of several events to put the ecosystem at the center of discussions. The next is the G-7 at the end of August in Biarritz, chaired by France, which wants to put biodiversity on the agenda.