10 Key Findings from the IPBES Global Assessment

by Sigma Xi Staff | May 15, 2019

Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep

Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep have been listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 2000. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) 

Last week, a report from the United Nations gave precise detail about how nature and its critical contributions to people are deteriorating worldwide, that human action has caused more species than ever before to be threatened with extinction, and that we need to make big changes now to reverse the trends.

“The Global Assessment Report is an alarm bell that we need to do more to conserve the planet,” said Jamie Vernon, executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society. “We won’t be able to pass a healthy ecosystem on to future generations at the current rate. Sigma Xi stands behind scientific evidence, such as this report, being used to inform policy-makers for the public good.” 

The report comes from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES). The IPBES is an independent, intergovernmental body comprised of more than 130 UN-member governments. The role of IPBES is to provide policymakers with objective scientific assessments. A summary of their new Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services had an optimistic tone that the future for biodiversity on the planet could improve, but it also painted a bleak picture of the present, and stated system-wide reorganization is needed, both locally and globally. 

10 Key Findings from the Report 

  1. Approximately 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. Many species could be gone within decades.
  2. The five direct drivers of changes in nature with the largest relative global impacts are, in descending order:
    • Changes in land and sea use
    • Direct exploitation of organisms
    • Climate change
    • Pollution
    • Invasive alien species
  3. Three-quarters of the land-based environment and approximately 66% of the marine environment have been significantly changed by humans. 
  4. More than one-third of the world’s land and nearly 75% of freshwater are devoted to growing crops and producing livestock. 
  5. Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980. Three-hundred to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters. 
  6. Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the report that don’t include transformative change. 
  7. Most of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 are likely to be missed, which are goals related to protecting biodiversity and increasing public awareness of why biodiversity matters. 
  8. On average, global sea levels have risen more than 3 millimeters per year over the past 20 years. 
  9. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 100% since 1980. 
  10. Forty percent of the global population lacks access to clean and safe drinking water. 

IPBES has released the report's Summary for Policymakers. The full report will be published later this year. 

Source: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals blog 

Sigma Xi has devoted its 2019 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference to the theme of Our Changing Global Environment: Scientists and Engineers Designing Solutions for the Future. Symposia on November 15–16, 2019, in Madison, Wisconsin, will explore issues related to energy, life and health, and water. Learn more at www.sigmaxi.org/amsrc19

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