Supporting the assessments made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in recent reports on climate change and biodiversity loss, the authors emphasise a need for ‘transformative change’ in order to mitigate the devastating impacts of human activity on the environment.
The report identifies five direct drivers of change that are devastating the environment. With those having the greatest impact first, the report highlighted the following as the drivers having the most profound impact:
- Changes in land and sea use
- Direct exploitation of organisms
- Climate change
- Invasion of alien species
Land and sea use change was reported as having the most significant negative impact on the natural environment. Agricultural expansion, driven by an increasing human population and changes in diet expectations, was noted as the most widespread form of such changes, with one third of the terrestrial land surface being used for agriculture and animal husbandry.
Significant emphasis has also been placed on the impact of biodiversity loss and land degradation. These factors, as well as having profound impacts on wildlife and the environment, are also having a significant impact on our food. The report notes that land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of global terrestrial area. In addition to this, an estimated $235 billion to $577 billion in annual global crop output is at risk due to pollinator losses. The decline of pollinators globally is particularly significant for our food when it is considered that 75% of global food crop types rely on animal pollinators. These food crops include many varieties of fruit and vegetables as well as some of the most important cash crops like coffee, cocoa and almonds.
The report reveals that, on average, 25% of species assessed are threatened with extinction. This equates to around 1 million species facing extinction globally at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been at any time over the past 10 million years. This also has a notable impact on food production as globally, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are amongst those disappearing. The loss of biodiversity and local breeds poses a threat to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change. Globally, 10% of domesticated breeds of mammals and 3.5% of domesticated birds are recorded as extinct, with this figure set to escalate without urgent intervention, says IPBES.
The report concludes that, at current rates of progress, the aims of various international environmental agreements – including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Aichi Targets for Biodiversity – will not be achieved unless there is far reaching transformative change.
In Britain, the government’s ‘Biodiversity 2020’ strategy sets out to address some of the challenges facing the country’s natural environment and establishes the UK’s ambitions to halt overall biodiversity loss. A ‘State of Nature’ report, which was published by the RSPB in 2016, gives an assessment of the natural environment in the UK and the effects of biodiversity loss on wildlife and the environment. Even in 2016, the report found that conservation measures at the time were insufficient to protect the natural environment and as such there had been a decline in biodiversity. Through assessing average abundance of species against the PREDICTS Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), researchers have found that England’s BII is at 80.6%, indicating a notable decline in biodiversity. The report also found that, in 2016, 12% of UK farmland species were threatened with extinction and 75% of the UK’s landscape was classified as agricultural.
ADAS has extensive experience of sustainability and biodiversity risk assessment, national and international policy advice and practical on-farm guidance. For more information about ADAS’s services or for further information about the impacts of biodiversity loss and climate change, please contact Sarah Wynn in our Sustainable Food and Farming Team.