It is not too late to prevent biodiversity loss

Recently, WWF publlished a new Living Planet report with dire news: since 1970, mammal, amphibian, reptile, bird and fish populations have dropped by 68% on average. This figure differs from continent to continent, with declines in Europe “only” being 24%. However, in Latin America, a staggering 94% drop in animal populations has been recorded. This sobering report on one hand calls for immediate action to halt the biodiversity loss, but on the other hand the situation may also seem hopeless to some. However, a new study, published in Nature journal, shows that with an enormous global effort, 90% of the current biodiversity may be preserved.

There are five main threats to global biodiversity, namely habitat loss, as the most severe, biological invasions, pollution, climate change and species overexploitation. Habitat loss and degradation is mainly a result of increased demand for land for agriculture and animal rearing. With expanding human population and increasing global meat consumption, the food demand is only going to increase. This will create more pressure on remaining wilderness areas.

The study by Leclere et al. (2020) examined how the biggest threat, habitat loss, may change in the future depending on our action. Based on that, they tried to predict how extinction rates will change. They investigated future land use change based on three types of potential efforts to reverse extinctions. The first two are related to supply side and demand side of food production, respectively. This includes sustainably increasing crop yields and increasing food trade, as well as decrease in food waste and less meat consumption. The third is directly related to conservation in terms of protected area declaration and habitat restoration.

What does the future hold?

Compared to the baseline scenario of business-as-usual, all action scenarios reduce extinction rates. Putting into place the conservation actions would have the greatest impact of reducing extinction rates by 58%. In this scenario, the current trends of biodiversity loss would reverse around 2050. However, with this scenario, food prices would pike. When conservation actions are taken together with food-system interventions, much more biodiversity loss can be avoided. By working on all three actions at the same time, we can avoid up to 90% of biodiversity losses.

The research findings can give us hope for saving nature. Yet, the study only examines one (although the most important) threat to biodiversity. Therefore, if we would include the impact of species invasions, climate change and other threats, the picture would likely be darker. In addition, the study is based on modelling and contains a lot of uncertainties in its baseline models. Therefore, rather than being able to predict the future, this enables us to see what possible futures may look like.

The time to act is NOW!

The fact that it is still not too late to change the face of our planet and prevent the mass extinction towards which we are heading gives a great hope. However, the measures needed to sufficiently address this are challenging. They require immediate and immense global cooperation and dedication to the goal, with little time left to act.

The actions proposed in this paper to prevent further biodiversity loss also directly address Wilderness conservation. Wilderness is disappearing rapidly due to land-use changes, where for example people deforest the Amazon and convert it into cattle pastures. Therefore, by extending the protected area network, improving land-use planning and changing our food system we can not only preserve biodiversity but also Wilderness. A lot of global biodiversity inevitably depends on enough of unspoilt habitat, for which conserving Wilderness is crucial.

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