UN Panel: Habitat Loss A Leading Threat To Biodiversity

This week, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a comprehensive report on global biodiversity. The report warns that as many as one million of Earth’s eight million species face extinction in the coming decades, but fortunately it is not too late to reverse course.

The 1,800-page report from IPBES, a United Nations-backed (UN) panel, outlines how Earth’s biodiversity has suffered in recent years. Since 1900, species living in their native habitats have decreased in population size by 20 percent on average. Additionally, land degradation has reduced the biological productivity of 23 percent of Earth’s lands, putting $577 billion in crops at risk and between 100 and 300 million individuals at higher risk of floods and hurricanes due to loss of natural buffers along coastlines.

IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said of the report, “The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The report goes on to name the five leading causes of species loss as loss of sea and land habitats, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive species. Humans have exacerbated these problems by, for example, converting open lands for development use at the rate of 6,000 acres a day in the U.S. alone.

The good news is there is still time to act before it’s too late. The report recommends a “transformative approach,” which includes biodiversity conservation.

To date, in the United States, the government has largely spearheaded conservation efforts, funding programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. However, based on the UN report’s data, there is clearly a greater need for more conservation from both public and private sources.

And, with 70 percent of lands in this country controlled by private individuals, it makes more sense than ever for private landowners to take on greater responsibility in this fight. The private sector has already shown they are up to the task, conserving more than 20 million acres between 2005 and 2015.

But even more importantly, greater private sector investment in conservation will accelerate successful conservation outcomes and set the example for future generations that taking care of our environment must be a priority for both governments and the private sector.

This report clearly demonstrates land conservation is needed now more than ever. Now is not the time to turn back the clock and limit the ability of more Americans to take part in this important work. Rather protecting and expanding incentives that allow conservation to compete with development is part of the paradigm shift that is required. Nothing less than the biodiversity of our planet is at stake.

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