The crisis – and how it can be solved.

We are currently experiencing the biggest global mass extinction event since the disappearance of dinosaurs. According to the global assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, up to one million species are currently threatened with extinction (IPBES 2019).

IPBES is a global initiative comparable to the better-known IPCC. It was founded in 2012, with the aim to assess the global state of the biodiversity crisis, and thus to supplement the work the IPCC is doing concerning climate change. The IPBES Global Assessment Report was published in May 2019, and is the most encompassing description of the global state of ecosystems and their biodiversity since 2015. 145 scientists (60% natural sciences, 40% social sciences) and 150 reviewers have been working intensively for three years to summarize available evidence on the state of ecosystems and their biodiversity. Building on experiences made during the IPCC assessments, IPBES adopted a highly transparent approach for communicating not only pure summaries of research results, but also what is the level of uncertainty in current knowledge. The report thus adheres to the highest standards of scientific practice.

The results the global assessment revealed were well-known already to ecologists and nature conservationists – but as a condensed, aggregated summary of all the losses, this report still is a shock. Approximately 25% of species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction – this means that out of four plants and animals we know, one is very likely to disappear forever in the near future.

Species go extinct naturally as well, and at a similar pace, evolution creates new species. These natural extinction rates, however, are rather low – and the current extinction rates are already at least 10 to 100 times higher than they were on average during the previous 10 million years. And the models and projections show: extinction rates are still increasing!


What is causing this current mass extinction?

The major direct contributor to this crisis is the current way how land and water is utilized for human purposes. The intensification of land use for food production and the conversion of near-natural areas into cities or industrial areas are direct causes of the accelerated deteriorations. Especially in marine ecosystems, direct exploitation is responsible for mass losses. Climate change is the third most relevant driver of the biodiversity crisis. But so far, land and sea use change as well as direct exploitation are the more important factors. And in a way, this is good news – because it means that changing the way we utilize land and sea can make a major difference.

Can we stop the mass extinction?

In its global assessment report, IPBES formulates global aims – and these may be different from what one might expect when thinking about measures to stop biodiversity loss. IPBES does not suggest measures that focus on saving nature only. Instead, it suggests measures that are in favor of both, humans and nature. Global aims should be to feed the world population without environmental degradation, and to conserve and restore biodiversity while at the same time promote human well-being. And this is not just a “Castle in the Air”. The report summarizes studies that show that it is possible, in theory, to stop biodiversity loss without refraining from using natural resources to a large extent. But to achieve this, a fundamental societal change is necessary: We need transformative change.

And how can we achieve this? IPBES identifies a whole set of leverage points and governance approaches that together can lead to the sweeping societal change that is needed. The dual goals of feeding the world population and protecting biodiversity can be reached, they say, by following three paths in combination: A change in agricultural production, a change in global supply chains, and a change in consumer behavior.

The most important leverage point, however, is a change of attitude: We need to develop and embrace diverse visions of a good life.

This is the idea that led to the foundation of Symbio(s)cene. With this initiative, we want to contribute to the development of positive visions for a good life, for a future in which both humans and nature thrive.



IPBES. (2019). Summary for policy makers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services In S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. Brondízio, H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, & C. N. Zayas (Eds.), (pp. 56). Bonn, Germany: IPBES secretary. [link]

Image sources:

© Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

© IPBES 2019

PD Dr. Tina Heger

Fields of Expertise: Biodiversity Research, Ecological Theory