For years, scientists have been warning the world about the outsized effect that climate change can—and will—imminently have every single aspect of life on Earth. But a new report the United Nations released on Monday, a summary of a comprehensive analysis slated to be published later this year, proves that things are far more dire, particularly regarding the planet's biodiversity.
Culled from Indigenous and local reports, scientific studies, and hundreds of experts from around the world, the paper details an "unprecedented" decrease in nature, with an uptick in many species' extinction, which will almost certainly have "grave impacts on people around the world." It also draws a critical through-line between loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the political, social, and economic implications these shifts will have if they continue on this steady trajectory.
The report found that because of shifts in the use of land and ocean resources, exploiting organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive species (in that order), 1 million animal and plant species may become extinct, and possibly within several decades. Since 1900, native species that once thrived in land-based habitats have decreased by at least 20%, and water-dwelling creatures have it especially bad: Over 40% of amphibian species, and more than one-third of marine mammals are also threatened with extinction, a trend slated to continue through 2050 and beyond.
Beyond having catastrophic effects on local ecosystems, the decline has significant implications on humanity's ability to survive. Changes in the likes of agricultural production (which has happened to keep up with the world's growing population) have caused land degradation, shrinking the global land surface's productivity by 23%, according to the report. As The New York Times notes, humans are looking at a near future where a limited number of crops are not only more susceptible to disease and pests, but newer varieties will also be tougher to grow in our increasingly warming planet.
The report's authors also stress that "regional and global scenarios currently lack and would benefit from an explicit consideration of the views, perspectives and rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, their knowledge and understanding of large regions and ecosystems, and their desired future development pathways." While they note that nature that's in the care of Indigenous communities is "declining less rapidly than in other lands," Indigenous communities are often among the first to be hit by the ongoing negative effects of climate change.
"The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever," said Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, in a press release. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
A lot will have to change for the impact to not be as drastic—and the efforts right now aren't enough. The U.N. report calls for "transformative change," meaning a "fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values," as Watson put it. That goes beyond the current global Aichi Biodiversity goals (most of which we're not close to hitting right now, as the report notes). It involves thinking about this on a much larger scale, and in particular evolving "global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth."
Upon its release, the full report will include a set of actions across many industries, from finance to agriculture, that can help make sustainability and conservation efforts more effective.