On 6 May 2019, in Paris, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) published its global assessment on the state of the world's biodiversity and ecosystem services. The report was compiled over three years by over 400 international experts in the field of biodiversity from 132 countries, including Ireland, and runs to 1,800 pages.
Thankfully, the editors condense these 1,800 pages down to five key take-away messages each backed up by a wealth of evidence: (1) the decline of our natural heritage is 'dangerous' and 'unprecedented', (2) species extinction rates are 'accelerating', (3) the current global response is 'insufficient', (4) 'transformative changes' are needed to restore and protect nature, and (5) 1,000,000 species are presently threatened with extinction.
Staying with the theme of no. 5, the report identifies the five key direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts: (1) change in the way we use land and sea, like agricultural intensification and urban sprawl, (2) our direct exploitation of organisms, like overfishing of scarce species, (3) climate change, (4) pollution, and (5) the spread of invasive species.
These findings make stark reading. The bottom line is that the planet is in trouble. And the trouble that it is in is due to human activity. The way in which we are currently trying to live is out of kilter with the way Earth naturally functions. The United Nations has warned that if we don't change our ways, our own welfare as a global community will be under threat.
The picture that the report paints is an ominous one: change or suffer the consequences. There is now an urgency about acting as we are confronted by a climate and biodiversity emergency.
Four years ago, in his ground-breaking encyclical letter Laudato Si' dated 24 May 2015, Pope Francis made an urgent appeal to all humanity to take better care of planet Earth, our common home. In Ireland, we have national and local Biodiversity Plans setting out ambitious objectives and detailed actions to be taken, but are these backed up with the human and financial resources needed to make them happen?
The alarm bells are ringing. President Michael D Higgins, oft quoted remark put it so well: "if we were coal miners, we would be up to our knees in dead canaries". The time is ripe for national government and local authorities to come up with appropriate responses and transformative changes.