November 24, 2022

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Human exploitation in combination with climate change is undermining the enormous benefits billions of people across the planet derive from wild species, a UN report has found.

The increasing strain on wild species of plants, animals, microbes and algae also means global biodiversity loss is accelerating, according to the report released on Friday by Ipbes, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

One in five people rely on wild species for food and income, while humans use 50,000 wild species to meet their needs every day, it adds.

Iphes — whose research is on a par with IPCC reports on climate change — previously established that 1 million species were threatened with extinction, many within decades.

Its latest evaluation details how billions of people in developed and developing countries benefit daily from use of wild species “for food, energy, materials, medicine, recreation, inspiration and many other vital contributions to human wellbeing”.

“The accelerating global biodiversity crisis, with a million species of plants and animals facing extinction, threatens these contributions to people,” it warns.

The assessment report on sustainable use of wild species is the result of four years’ work by 85 leading experts from the natural and social sciences, holders of indigenous and local knowledge, and 200 contributing authors. Its summary was approved this week by representatives of the 139 member states of Ipbes, including Ireland, in Bonn, Germany.

It calls for a transformative change in human-nature relationships, whereby sustainable use of wild species is achieved and “biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are maintained while contributing to human wellbeing”.

One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking

—  Dr Marla R Emery

“With about 50,000 wild species used through different practices, including more than 10,000 wild species harvested directly for human food, rural people in developing countries are most at risk from unsustainable use, with lack of complementary alternatives often forcing them to further exploit wild species already at risk,” said Dr Jean-Marc Fromentin who co-chaired the assessment.

“One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking; and about 90 per cent of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing,” noted co-chair Dr Marla R Emery. “But the regular use of wild species is extremely important not only in the Global South. From the fish that we eat, to medicines, cosmetics, decoration and recreation, wild species’ use is much more prevalent than most people realise.”

Some 70 per cent of the world’s poor are directly dependent on the products of nature including 7,500 species of wild fish and aquatic invertebrates, 31,100 species of wild plants including trees and fungi, 1,700 species of wild land-based invertebrates, and 7,500 species of wild amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Wild tree species account for two thirds of global industrial roundwood; trade in wild plants, algae and fungi is a billion-dollar industry, and even non-extractive uses of wild species are big business, it finds. Tourism, based on observing wild species, is one of the main reasons that — before the Covid-19 pandemic — protected areas globally received 8 billion visitors and generated US$600 billion annually.

On fishing, Dr Fromentin said: “Recent global estimates confirm about 34 per cent of marine wild fish stocks are overfished and 66 per cent are fished within biologically sustainable levels — with significant local and contextual variations.”

The report calls for a fixing of current inefficiencies; reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; suppressing harmful financial subsidies; supporting small-scale fisheries; adapting to changes in oceanic productivity due to climate change; and proactively creating effective transboundary institutions.

Countries with robust fisheries management have seen stocks increasing in abundance, it concludes. The Atlantic bluefin tuna population has been rebuilt and is now fished within sustainable levels, it confirms. For countries and regions with low intensity fisheries management measures, however, the status of stocks is often poorly known, but generally believed to be below the abundance that would maximise sustainable food production. —

“Many small-scale fisheries are unsustainable or only partially sustainable, especially in Africa for both inland and marine fisheries, and in Asia, Latin America and Europe for coastal fisheries.”

The report says climate change, increasing demand and technological advances — making many extractive practices more efficient — “are likely to present significant challenges to sustainable use in the future”.

“Overexploitation is one of the main threats to the survival of many land-based and aquatic species in the wild,” said co-chair Prof John Donaldson. “Addressing the causes of unsustainable use and, wherever possible reversing these trends, will result in better outcomes for wild species and the people who depend on them.”

The survival of an estimated 12 per cent of wild tree species is threatened by unsustainable logging, while unsustainable gathering is one of the main threats for several plant groups, notably cacti, cycads and orchids, and unsustainable hunting has been identified as a threat for 1,341 wild mammal species — with declines in large-bodied species that have low natural rates of increase also linked to hunting pressure.

It identifies drivers such as land- and seascape changes, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species that impact the abundance and distribution of wild species, and can increase stress and challenges among the human communities that use them. Global trade in wild species has expanded substantially in volume, value and trade networks over the past four decades, it warns.

While trade in wild species provides important income for exporting countries, offers higher incomes for harvesters, and can diversify sources of supply to allow pressure to be redirected from species being unsustainably used, “it also decouples the consumption of wild species from their places of origin”, it says.

Without effective regulation across supply chains — from local to global — global trade of wild species generally increases pressures on wild species, leading to unsustainable use and sometimes to wild population collapses as seen with the shark fin trade.

The authors find illegal trade in wild species represents the third largest class of all illegal trade — with estimated annual values of up to US$199 billion — with timber and fish making up the largest volumes and value under this heading.

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