Coordinator of the Watch and Prospective Department
Sahara and Sahel Observatory
A million animal and plant species are currently on the verge of extinction
Over the past 500 years, the earth has experienced 5 massive extinctions, suppressing nearly 90% of extant species.
No doubt, the appearance and disappearance of all species follow the law of Mother Nature, with natural disasters helping. However, the breathtaking pace such extinction has taken since the industrial revolution and more particularly over the past 50 years, remains unclear.
The situation we are currently experiencing has never been that alarming ... By multiplying by a hundred (or even a thousand), the animals and plants extinction speed and pace has shifted into accelerated mode.
Since 1900, the abundance of local species in most major terrestrial habitats has declined by an average 20%. Some 680 species of vertebrates have disappeared since the 16th century, as have more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture, in 2016 (IPBES1, 2019).
To add insult to injury, our current knowledge has only inventoried nearly 8 million plant and animal species. The smallest and most buried under the ground and in the oceans are still unknown; some of them may even have disappeared before we even knew they ever existed.
Notwithstanding its adaptive and creative power, the human race belongs to the hominid family. Consequently, its life and survival depend closely on its interactions with its environment but also with all living beings of the plant and animal kingdoms.
Seeing their number go double, since 1970, human beings have embarked on a mad and endless race to satisfy their vital and ... optional needs.
The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, produced by IPBES in 2019, argues that 1) more than a third of the earth's surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now used for agriculture or animal breeding, 2) the agricultural production has increased by approximately 300 % since 1970, 3) soil degradation has reduced the productivity of the world land surface by 23%, 4) urban areas have more than doubled since 1992 and 5) plastic pollution has increased ten times since 1980…
A 3.5°C temperature increase by 2100, caused by exponential industrialization, could cause the extinction of 40% to 70% of the existing fauna (IPCC2, 2007) which will endanger the very existence of Homo sapiens sapiens.
Indeed, 75% of the world agricultural production depends on pollinator insects, and more particularly bees (Greenpeace, 2016). By foraging on flowers, bees pollinate no less than 80% of plants, thus providing an environmental service estimated at 153 billion euros per year worldwide (INRA3, 2013). However, a collapse of (domestic and wild) bee populations has been registered around the world since twenty years. Their final disappearance is expected in years, a few decades at most, if no immediate actions are made.
The countdown to a series of interrelated and mass catastrophes is on.
Agriculture, deforestation, overexploitation of species, global warming, all-out urbanization, pollution, introduction of alien and invasive species ... The connection is quickly established.
Executioner today, victim tomorrow! Man is going through an unprecedented situation in his History.
The solutions to the problems he caused lie in his hands, should he commit to the change today. If he maintains his current pace, Man will have increasingly unbearable difficulties in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring sustainable conservation of natural resources as set by the 2050 Biodiversity vision (IPBES, 2019). Any sign of hope we can possibly overcome this situation?
At the international level, experts have explored several avenues. They are all calling for profound changes, based on nature-founded solutions. The rational use of energy and food for humans and animals, the sustainable use of biodiversity and the implementation of environmentally friendly adaptation and mitigation measures to face climate change are solutions that we could think of to slow down the decline of biodiversity.
For example, measures to preserve species, varieties and breeds would provide a better capacity for adapting food production which would help achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal: "No more Hunger".
Finally, the in-depth change to which humanity aims could only materialize through individual and collective but above all synergistic mobilization between all stakeholders whose mission is to protect nature.
1 The intergovernmental scientific and political platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services
2 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
3 The National Institute of Agricultural Research - France