Covid-19 has shown how human health is intimately linked to the relationship of humans with their natural environment. As we invade nature and deplete vital habitats, an increasing number of species are at risk and that includes humanity and the future we want.
Biodiversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth and can be a measure of variation on the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Estimates on the number of Earth’s current species range from 10 million to 14 million, of which only about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86% have not yet been described.
Today we are going through the sixth extinction phase, the Holocene extinction, named for the geologic period which began 12,000 years ago and continues today. The scientific community first discovered this extinction crisis in the 1970’s, and it marks the first time in history one species—humans—are responsible for the mass extinction of thousands of other species. The current rate of global diversity loss is estimated to be 100 to 1000 times higher than the (naturally occurring) background extinction rate and expected to still grow in the upcoming years.
On the opposite, biodiversity positively influences human health in a number of ways, sustaining our food supply, being a source of medicines – just think of Artemisin, from the sweet wormwood plant, is one of the most effective anti-malarial drugs – and supporting the provision of clean air and fresh water while also contributing to economic development, cultural and spiritual enrichment.
In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published a summary for policymakers of the largest, most comprehensive study to date of biodiversity and ecosystem services: the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report was finalized in Paris.
The main conclusions:
1. Over the last 50 years, the state of nature has deteriorated at an unprecedented and accelerating rate.
2. 25% of plant and animal species are threatened with extinction as the result of human activity
3. The main drivers of this deterioration have been changes in land and sea use, exploitation of living beings, climate change, pollution, and invasive species. These five drivers, in turn, are caused by societal behaviors, from consumption to governance.
4. Damage to ecosystems cause problems with food, water and humanity’s air supply.
5. To fix the problem, humanity will need a transformative change, including sustainable agriculture, reductions in consumption and waste, fishing quotas and collaborative water management.
As the global community is called to re-examine its relationship to the natural world, one thing is certain: despite all our technological advances we are completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems for our health, water, food, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter and energy, just to name a few.
2020 is a year of reflection, opportunity and solutions. It is expected, from each of us, that we will “Build Back Better” by using this time to increase the resilience of nations and communities as we recover from this pandemic. Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity and 2020 is the year when, more than ever, the world can signal a strong will for a global framework that will “bend the curve” on biodiversity loss for the benefit of humans and all life on Earth, because “Ours solutions are in Nature”.