Five things we've learned from nature crisis report

The IPBES report tells a devastating story of the state of plants and animals around the world. Here are five things we've learned from the report...and five things we can do about it.

Nature provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe - as well as more beauty and moments of personal inspiration than we can quantify. So when a 1,800 page UN report from 150 experts warns us with grim clarity that nature is in serious trouble, we should pay attention.

This week, a new UN report has revealed the devastating impact of humans on nature. The global assessment of nature compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is the first to take such a broad view of the damage humans are doing to nature – and it confirms some of our worst fears about the state of our world.

It reveals not only that nature is in serious trouble – but also how much humans depend on nature for their very survival. It has never been more urgent to halt the crisis we have caused. 

We pull out some of the key messages from the report – as well as five things we can all do to help reverse the crisis faced by the natural world.
 

Five things we've learned from the IPBES report.

 

1. Nature is in serious trouble

Gannet trapped in plastic

Gannet trapped in plastic by niederrhein-foto.de/Uwe Schmid

The numbers in the report are clear. Humans are doing awful damage to the earth, and the wildlife that calls this planet home:

  • one million species globally are threatened with extinction
  • natural ecosystems have declined by 47% on average (relative to their earliest estimated states)
  • the global biomass of wild animals has fallen by 82%

These losses are terrible in themselves, but also have real implications for humans:

  • natural ecosystems clean the air, provide food, absorb CO2, and regulate the climate
  • 2 billion people in the world rely on wood to provide their primary energy needs
  • 70% of cancer drugs are natural, or synthetic products inspired by nature.
     

2. Climate change and ecological crises are not separate things

Coal fired power station

Power station by Pixabay

Previously, climate change has been treated as a separate problem from biodiversity loss. But the report highlights that there is a strong interrelationship between the two. 

Climate change worsens biodiversity decline, as species struggle to adapt to rising temperatures, while declining biodiversity and damaged ecosystems make the planet less resilient to climate change. 

The message is clear – we must solve both problems together, or solve neither. Restoring ecosystems will help slow climate change, and reducing emissions will limit global temperature rises that make life difficult for so many species of wildlife.
 

3. This is a crisis caused by humans

Marbled white and bulldozers

Marbled white and bulldozer by Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

It is clear in the report that these declines in biodiversity are a direct consequence of human action. Poor stewardship of the planet and over-consumption has led to the destruction of the most biodiversity-rich lands and oceans across the world.

Here in the UK, we know that careless development and poor farming practices have degraded and destroyed the homes of wildlife.

Nature conservation charities, including BBOWT, have been protecting some of our most precious ecosystems from destruction for decades. Without these islands of biodiversity, the world would be in an even worse state.
 

4. We need a new way of valuing nature

Person admiring tree

Person admiring tree by Matthew Roberts

The authors of the report were keen to emphasise the concept of ‘nature’s contribution to people.’ Some of our most precious natural ecosystems do not currently register on the economist’s balance book – and this needs to change.

A magnificent ancient forest can provide a home to hundreds of species, regulate the climate, absorb carbon, inspire people with its peace and beauty – and yet only register on the account books after timber is extracted and GDP increases. As it stands, this increase in wealth is illusory – because no-one has accounted for all the things that have been lost in the process.
 

5. Policy- and decision-makers must act - and quickly

Red deer and city lights

Red deer and lights by Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Biodiversity decline is a global problem that needs global solutions. Professor Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, has highlighted the policies and technologies that offer our last, best chance to conserve and restore biodiversity, and limit global temperature rise.

These could include removing subsidies that lead to the destruction of nature and future warming of the earth, and enacting laws that encourage the protection of nature.

The findings in the IPBES report will inform talks on a ‘new deal for nature and people’, which is due to be negotiated at the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (CBD CoP) meeting in Beijing in 2020.  It is essential that governments and decision makers around the world enact the recommended policies, before it is too late.

Five things we can all do about the crisis.

The grim findings in the IPBES report feel overwhelming – and it is true that a problem of such great scale needs large scale solutions.

But there are also things you can do at a local level. Small changes can make a big difference – and also make it clear to policy makers that the biodiversity crisis is something that people care about, and that they cannot ignore.
 

1. Talk about it

Greta Thunberg addresses the UK Parliament

Greta Thunberg addresses the UK Parliament

“Is my microphone on? Can you hear me?” Greta Thunberg asked MPs at the Houses of Parliament when she made her speech there last month.

For too long, the environment has been overlooked by mainstream media. We need to talk about wildlife and the environment – both its beauty and the threats it faces – so much that it can no longer be ignored.

Numbers and statistics can feel overwhelming and distant. But we all have stories to tell about what wildlife means to us. Do you remember clouds of moths at night when you were younger, or millions of starlings flying in murmurations in autumn in skies that now are empty?

Share these stories with your friends. Tell your colleagues and family about the report. Make your voice heard on behalf of all those that have none.

2. Put pressure on decision makers

Val Siddiqui meeting MP

Meet your MP and ask them for a strong Environment Bill

We are calling on the government to introduce a strong new Environment Act, with legally binding targets and a watchdog to enforce them.  More than 200 of our members and supporters have written to their MPs asking them to support our vision for a new Environment Act. You can do so here.

You can also comment on planning applications in your area that you think are threatening biodiversity, or work on your neighbourhood plan to let local decision makers know which local areas need protecting. 

3. Take a personal action

Wildlife gardening

Wildlife gardening by Katrina Martin/2020VISION

There are things we can all do to make a difference.  Here are three simple steps:

• reduce food waste – Professor Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, pointed out that if food waste were a country, it would rank third in the world for emissions. Reducing the amount of food we throw away is a simple step to lessen our impact on the planet.

• make changes to your diet – “eating more diverse diets, with more vegetables […] can also make the planet healthier,” says Dr Kate Brauman, one of the report’s authors.

• garden for wildlife – plant native trees and plants for pollinators in your garden. Together, our gardens make up a vital habitat for birds, bees and other wildlife.

You can find more ideas for local action here.

4. Join and champion your local Wildlife Trust

Wildlife Trusts logo

Join your local Wildlife Trust

With the other Wildlife Trusts, BBOWT have been safeguarding biodiversity in the UK for sixty years. By carefully managing our nature reserves, we have preserved valuable gene pools of rare plants and animals. 

We are now calling for the government to introduce Nature Recovery Networks, which will put space for nature at the heart of farming and planning systems and allow wildlife to spread out from nature reserves and into the wider countryside.

We are one of a number of small organisations working tirelessly to put right the mistreatment of our natural world.  Join us today.

5. Enjoy nature

Boy and fox in garden

Repairing our connection with nature. By Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

The report made clear that we need to change our relationship with the natural world if we are to have any hope of saving it.

“We need to shift to…an idea of a fulfilling life that is more aligned with a good relationship with nature,” says Prof Sandra Diaz, one of the co-chairs of the report. 

The first step in improving this relationship is to celebrate the natural world that sustains us and the wildlife with which we share this planet. Take photos of the beautiful wild things you see; volunteer some hands on work on a local nature reserve; take a walk in a local woodland; wake up early one morning and listen to the incredible chorus of birdsong.  

Only when we all truly value the wonders of the natural world can we hope to save them.