The IPBES 2019 Report calls for more courageous policy making

June 21, 2019

The IPBES 2019 Report calls for more courageous policy making

The IPBES Global Assessment outlines the forces that affect biodiversity and ecosystems, forecasts what the future holds if trends continue or change, and explains what this all means for people and policy over the next three decades.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body established in 2012 with over 130 member states around the world.  Its 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, recently released to the public, examines the state of nature and its ecosystems

The IPBES Global Assessment Report is based on almost 15,000 references and 150 experts opinions in the natural and social sciences from over 50 countries to evaluate how far the world has come - and how much there's left to go - in achieving key international goals ranging from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Aichi Biodiversity Targets, to the Paris Climate Agreement.

 «If we want to halt biodiversity loss, slow the deterioration of nature and meet biodiversity, climate and sustainable development goals by 2030, we need to put our societies on a transformative change through rapid and improved implementation of bold policy instruments, sustainable supply chains, and institutional innovation» says the report.

The role of Nature

Nature embodies different concepts for different people, including biodiversity, ecosystems, Mother Earth, systems of life and other analogous concepts. Both nature and nature’s contributions to people are vital for human existence and good quality of life.

While more food, energy and materials than ever before are now being supplied to people in most places, this is increasingly at the expense of nature’s ability to provide such contributions in the future. The biosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends, is being altered to an unparalleled degree across all spatial scales. Biodiversity – the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – is declining faster than at any time in human history.

Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.

Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Global Assessment, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

Land-use as a key factor 

Land-use change is driven primarily by agriculture, forestry and urbanization, all of which are associated with air, water and soil pollution. 

Over one third of the world’s land surface and nearly three-quarters of available freshwater resources are devoted to crop or livestock production. Crop production occurs on some 12 per cent of total ice-free land. Grazing occurs on about 25 per cent of total ice-free lands and approximately 70 per cent of drylands. 

Approximately 25 per cent of the globe’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from land clearing, crop production and fertilization, with animal-based food contributing 75 per cent of that. 

Intensive agriculture has increased food production at the cost of regulating and non-material contributions from nature, though environmentally beneficial practices are increasing. Small landholdings (less than 2 hectares) contribute approximately 30 per cent of global crop production and 30 per cent of the global food caloric supply, using around a quarter of agricultural land and usually maintaining rich agrobiodiversity. 

Moving to logging, between 1990 and 2015 clearing and wood harvest contributed to a total reduction of 290 million hectares in native forest cover, while the area of planted forests grew by 110 million hectares. 

All mining on land has increased dramatically and, while still using less than 1 per cent of the Earth’s land, has had significant negative impacts on biodiversity, emissions of highly toxic pollutants, water quality and water distribution, and human health. 

In marine systems, fishing has had the most impact on biodiversity in the past 50 years alongside other significant drivers. Global fish catches have been sustained by expanding geographically and penetrating deeper waters. An increasing proportion of marine fish stocks are overfished (33 per cent in 2015), including economically important species, while 60 per cent are maximally sustainably fished and only 7 per cent are underfished. 

Industrial fishing covers at least 55 per cent of the oceans, largely concentrated in the northeast Atlantic, the northwest Pacific and upwelling regions off South America and West Africa. Small-scale fisheries account for more than 90 per cent of commercial fishers (over 30 million people), and nearly half of global fish catch. In 2011, illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing represented up to one third of the world’s reported catch.

The need for new policies

Societal goals – including those for food, water, energy, health and the achievement of human well-being for all, mitigating and adapting to climate change and conserving and sustainably using nature – can be achieved in sustainable pathways through the rapid and improved deployment of existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change. 

Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, a fundamental, structural change is called for

According to the IPBES experts, five key interventions in the field of policy making can generate positive transformation by tackling the underlying indirect drivers of nature deterioration:

1. Developing incentives and widespread capacity and eliminating perverse incentives.

2. Reforming sectoral and segmented decision-making to promote integration across sectors and jurisdictions.

3. Taking pre-emptive and precautionary actions in regulatory and management institutions and businesses.

4. Managing for resilient social and ecological systems in the face of uncertainty and complexity.

5. Strengthening environmental laws and policies and their implementation, and the rule of law more generally