'Save nature to save ourselves'

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

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The headline on the Agence France Presse (AFP) report on a landmark UN assessment of the state of nature probably best summed up the gravity of the environmental threat facing mankind: 'Save nature to save ourselves, UN report pleads', it read.

As AFP most appropriately put it, humanity is rapidly destroying the natural world upon which our prosperity — and ultimately our survival — depends.

The news agency went on to report Mr Robert Watson, who chaired the 132-nation meeting that validated the Summary for Policymakers forged by 450 experts, as saying that changes wrought by decades of pillaging and poisoning forests, oceans, soil, and air threaten society “at least as much as climate change”.

According to the UN report, which was released on Monday this week after three years of research and drawing on 15,000 reference materials, one million animal and plant species face extinction, many within decades.

The report highlighted five ways that humans are reducing biodiversity:

* Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth's land, two-thirds of its oceans, and 85 per cent of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive.

* Overfishing the world's oceans. A third of the world's fish stocks are overfished.

* Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world's land mammals — not including bats — and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

* Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world's waters.

* Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70 per cent since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

The scientists have told us that the accelerating pace at which unique life-forms are disappearing — already tens to hundreds of times faster than during the last 10 million years — could tip Earth into the first mass extinction since non-avian dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago.

Man's need for more food and energy are said to be the main drivers of what can turn out to be a major catastrophe. However, even as we acknowledge the scientists' advice that climate change and biodiversity loss feed off each other in a vicious cycle, there is hope that humans can prevent this. According to one of the report's co-authors, Professor Andrew Purvis of the Natural History Museum in London, what we need to remember is that the report is “not a terminal diagnosis”.

We accept that placing a halt on these trends will require transformative change in every aspect of how humans interact with nature.

Small island states, especially here in the Caribbean, are playing their role in ensuring preservation of the environment, even as we acknowledge that more can be done by our governments and peoples.

Dare we hope the same from the world's major nations that are not as circumspect about preserving our planet?

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