Up to a million species are at risk of annihilation – UN report

Sixth wave of extinction dawns as planet’s life-support systems near danger zone

The destruction of nature threatens humanity at least as much as human-induced climate change, a global report on species loss will warn on Monday.

Complied by hundreds of leading specialists on biodiversity loss, the report will provide evidence that the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity.

Up to a million species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades, was one of the findings in a leaked draft of the global assessment compiled by the UN’s leading research body on nature.

The 1,800-page study will show people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.


The final draft will be completed in Paris on Saturday by experts and representatives of 132 governments including Ireland, before being issued on Monday.

The overall message is already clear, according to Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“There is no question we are losing biodiversity at a truly unsustainable rate that will affect human wellbeing both for current and future generations,” he added. “We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development.”


Like its predecessor issued in 2005, the report is a compilation of hundreds of studies, on subjects such as ocean plankton, honey bees and Amazonian botany. It is expected to provide further evidence the world is in a sixth wave of extinction. Unlike the past five, this Anthropocene extinction is human-driven.

Irish Wildlife Trust campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty said he expected it will confirm what is known, “that global ecosystems are collapsing”.

“I do think it’s important however that this will be spelled out in a way that we find hard to ignore. Last year, the climate scientists were very successful in grabbing attention through their use of uncompromising language – I hope this report does the same.”

He hoped people would see the connections between climate breakdown and mass extinction as they are two sides of the same coin.

“We have all of the solutions to hand but what we’ve been lacking is any sense of urgency to get on with it. So I hope next week the penny will drop that we really need to get on with it.”

Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland said the report's significance would be on a par with recent UN reports on climate change. It should be the platform "to set out on a course of radical action to halt biodiversity loss", to end unsustainable development and to set targets – and ensure they're met, she added.

It was hard to make progress on conservation, but she believed "a green wave is happening", as indicated by Wicklow County Council declaring a "biodiversity and climate emergency" this week, but this needed to be followed up by green actions.

Mike Barrett executive director of science and conservation at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said: "All of our ecosystems are in trouble. This is the most comprehensive report on the state of the environment. It irrefutably confirms that nature is in steep decline."

This posed an environmental emergency for humanity, which is threatened by a triple challenge of climate, nature and food production, he said.

Additional reporting: Guardian Service

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times