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'Good life' needs rethinking to avoid eco-disaster

By Julian Shea in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-05-08 00:30

UN report highlights environmental cost of consumer society

Robert Watson, the British environmental scientist who chairs IPBES, launches a report on the damage done by modern civilisation to the natural world. [Photo/Agencies]

A report published by the United Nations has warned that as many as 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction because of environmentally damaging practices and behavior.

The document published by the UN's Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, known as IPBES, warned that consumerism and pollution were the biggest contributors toward actions that could permanently damage the world around us.

It also said climate change and biodiversity protection are inextricably linked, with predicted temperature rises based on current increase rates posing a huge threat to vulnerable species.

"The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever," said IPBES chairman Robert Watson. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."

The 1,800-page report used 15,000 source materials and referenced the work of 145 scientists. It highlighted factors such as a 300 percent increase in crop production globally since 1970 and a 10-fold rise in plastic pollution during the last three decades as factors that were taking such a toll, and said that there must be "transformative change" in the way humanity treated the environment to stop the alarming decline.

"Unless we act now to reduce the loss of biodiversity, we will undermine human well-being for current and future generations ... we need actions," Watson said.

Environmental groups said the report's findings supported many of the things they have been campaigning for.

"We are destroying our own home," said Mark Wright, the World Wildlife Foundation's director of science.

He added that the findings "paint a terrifying picture of a broken world".

"It shows we are chopping down our forests, overfishing our seas and melting the Arctic — and driving the other life we share this planet with to extinction at an unprecedented rate."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said deeds must replace words to halt the slide toward mass extinction.

"Business as usual — destroying the rainforests, emptying the seas of marine life, and polluting our air and water — is getting us there at breakneck speed," he warned.

The knock-on effects of environmental damage could be huge.  More than 75 percent of food crops, including some dietary staples, depend on animal pollination so would be hit by falling insect numbers, and the habitats of 40 percent of amphibians, one-third of marine mammals and one-third of reef-forming corals are also endangered.

One of the report's co-authors, Sandra Diaz, said a fundamental reappraisal of consumer society is needed.

"We need to change the way we think about what a good life is," she said. "We need to change the social narrative that puts an emphasis on a good life depending on a high consumption and quick disposal."

The director general of the UN's cultural and scientific agency UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said the report highlights how environmental issues unite the entire human race, but this was a source for a hope.

"Our local, indigenous and scientific knowledge are proving that we have solutions and so no more excuses: we must live on earth differently," she added.

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