Threat to nature applies to Ireland as much as to Amazon

Collapse of nature poses an existential threat to Planet Earth

“The opportunity to intervene effectively is limited to years – not centuries”

“The opportunity to intervene effectively is limited to years – not centuries”


There can be only one conclusion: the felling of forests, the plundering of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together pushing the natural world to the brink.

That applies to Ireland just as much as it does to the Amazon.

The findings of the IPBES global assessment confirms the collapse of nature poses an existential threat to Planet Earth, in a chillingly similar way to climate breakdown.

With accelerating trends on both fronts, the opportunity to intervene effectively is limited to years – not centuries – though it will take many, many decades to restore the planet to a point where human existence can be regarded as sustainable.

Remarkably, the report concludes collective action can reverse the decline, with the help of nature-based solutions that are immediately available.

The findings show, however, in shocking terms how unprecedented species loss is combining with global warming in taking a potentially-deadly grip on the Planet.

The conclusions of the world’s leading conservationists and experts on biodiversity send out an ominous message, in much the same way that the landmark “1.5 degree” report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did last year.

On the precipice

Climate change is already impairing nature in many parts of the world and causing biodiversity loss. The planet is warming, sea levels are rising, countries are being hit by devastating cyclones. We are on the precipice of eradicating nearly 10 per cent of insect species, which are among one million of plants and animals experiencing accelerating decline.

Many believe it all adds up to a world facing “a human extinction crisis”. Moreover, the IPBES assessment is another stark reminder the time to act is now.

The case for action backed by scientific evidence is so clear there is no room for the kind of denial, which contaminated the climate debate for too long. “We can no longer say we didn’t know,” said UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay following its publication in Paris.

Global production – especially of food, energy and related waste – has reached record levels in recent decades, facilitated by a narrow mindset of economic growth. This is increasingly at the expense of nature’s ability to play its vital role in sustaining life.

Moreover, it “frequently undermines nature’s many other contributions”, ranging from maintaining air and water quality, to climate regulation, to providing a sense of place; not forgetting its immense cultural significance and the sense of awe it inspires.

Changes in the way we farm, harvest fish stocks, use our soils, protect coastal ecosystems and maintain forests are required. There will be more pressure to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels as the dominant energy source. The task is greatly added to by a global population due to rise to 9 billion by 2050, and the increased frequency of extreme climate-related events.

‘Make or break our future’

In short, what is pursued in coming decades will make or break our future. Yet the IPBES outlines how the right response can help people to eat better and live longer. The report presents a range of illustrative actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, and finance.

That means taking action at local community level and at a global scale. A key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, “steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth”.

Nature-based solutions can be cost-effective for meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals even in cities which are crucial for global sustainability, the report finds. Increased use of green infrastructure and other ecosystem-based approaches can help to advance sustainable urban development while reinforcing climate mitigation and adaptation. IPBES shows working with nature can ease human pressure on the planet and store carbon.

As one contributing scientist remarked, “It’s not a terminal diagnosis but the medicine has to start right away”. When the UN biodiversity conference reconvenes in China next year, the treatment regime will need to be finalised as the biodiversity/climate doomsday clock is ticking perilously close to midnight.