Lost world: UN report shows Nature at death's door

Patrick GALEY
1 / 8

Human activity is trashing the planet, pushing hundreds of thousands of species to the brink, according to a landmark draft UN report obtained by AFP

Human activity is trashing the planet, pushing hundreds of thousands of species to the brink, according to a landmark draft UN report obtained by AFP (AFP Photo/JOSEPH EID)

Paris (AFP) - A landmark UN report on the state of Nature released Monday shows how humanity has wreaked havoc on the environment, undercutting Earth's essential life-support systems.

A Summary for Policymakers approved by 132 nations and the underlying 1,800-page scientific report lay bare a planet ravaged by rampant consumption and pollution, where a million species are at risk of extinction.

Here are the report's key findings, which read like a charge sheet against history's most destructive creatures: ourselves.

- Extinction -

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report, the first of its kind in 15 years, predicts a harrowing future for plants and animals.

One million species face the risk of extinction -- many within decades.

Species are going extinct up to several hundred times quicker than during the last 10 million years, and half a million plants and animals currently have "insufficient habitat for long term survival".

This mass extinction will have a direct and lasting impact on human life, the report warns.

- Consumption -

As our population swells, so does mankind's consumption. The report depicts a world ravaged by an insatiable demand for resources.

Crop production has surged 300 percent since 1970, meaning one third of all land is now used to make food -- an industry that uses 75 percent of all fresh water on Earth.

At least one quarter of all man-made emissions come from agriculture, the vast majority from meat production.

What's worse, half of all new agricultural land is taken from forests, the lungs of the planet that suck greenhouse gases from the air.

There is currently less than 70 percent of the forest cover Earth had before the Industrial Revolution.

Experts found that 93 percent of marine fish stocks are either overfished or fished to the limit of sustainability; one third of all fishing worldwide is said to be illegal or unreported.

In total, we extract around 60 billion tonnes of natural resources from the Earth every year -- a rise of 80 percent in a matter of decades.

- Pollution -

And we are leaving our mark in other ways.

We dump up to 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other waste into oceans and rivers each year.

There are roughly 17,000 mines operating worldwide, and at least 6,500 oil and gas installations, kept viable by $345 billion in fossil fuel subsidies.

The underlying report, compiled from more than 15,000 academic papers and research publications, estimates that 75 percent of land, 40 percent of oceans and 50 percent of rivers "manifest severe impacts of degradation" from human activity.

Our plastic production has increased 10-fold since 1990 and the use of fertilisers -- which poison ecosystems and wreck soil's CO2-absorption rates -- has doubled in just 13 years.

- Inequality -

The report's story of Earth is also one of rife inequality, with richer nations consuming vastly more per capita than poorer ones battling to retain their natural resources.

Indeed, per capita demand for materials is four times greater in high- than in low-income economies.

In Europe and North America, humans now consume several times the recommended intake of meat, sugar and fat for optimal health, while 40 percent of the world's people lack access even to clean drinking water.

Eleven percent of humans are undernourished; more than 820 million face food insecurity in Africa and Asia alone.

The inequality gap is huge and widening: GDP per head is already 50 times larger in wealthy nations than in poor ones.

- Climate -

The authors stress that whatever losses humans inflict on Nature will in turn be inflicted upon us.

More than two billion people still rely on wood as their main energy source, and up to half of all medicines come from plants and animals.

What's more, the world's oceans and forests absorb more than half of our greenhouse gas emissions, which have doubled since 1980 contributing to a 0.7 Celsius global temperature rise.

In October a sister report said only drastic cuts in fossil fuel use could avert runaway global warming.

The IPBES summary said that five percent of Earth's species are at risk of extinction if the temperature rises just 2C -- still within the targets of the Paris climate deal.

Business as usual is predicted to warm Earth 4.3C by 2100. Were that to happen, the authors warned, as many as one in six of all species could be wiped out.