Like house guests wearing out their welcome, humans are trashing the planet so fast that it would take 1.7 "Earths" to regenerate all of the biological resources used up from 2011 to 2016, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity reported on Tuesday.
Since 1970, humanity has been running an ecological deficit: using more resources each year than Earth can renew and producing more waste than nature can absorb, scientists said. As a result, none of the United Nations' 20 decade-long goals for protecting biodiversity — the variety of life in all its forms — were achieved, the CBD's secretariat said in its Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report.
Just six goals were "partially achieved." Known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the goals for 2020 were set at Nagoya, Japan in 2010. They ranged from simply making people aware of the value of biodiversity to saving endangered species to slowing the rate of losses in coral reefs and forestlands.
“This flagship report underlines that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations,’ ” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, CBD's executive secretary.
"Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised," she said. "And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.”
Nations also are collectively spending about $500 billion on fossil fuel and other subsidies "that potentially cause environmental harm, $100 billion of which relate to agriculture," the report said.
There are some silver linings. The report found 91 of the more than 150 countries that signed on to the Aichi goals a decade ago are applying global standards for using environmental factors in their national statistics; that number has roughly doubled since 2006. And 43% of the world's key biodiversity regions are now considered protected areas, up from 29% in 2000.
The six partially-achieved Aichi targets include, for example, instances where the proportion of land and water was protected, but the quality of those protections fell short. In another case, the world's knowledge about biodiversity improved, but its sharing and application of that knowledge did not.
Like the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, the CBD, which took effect in 1993, is an international treaty launched at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that galvanized modern environmentalism.
The Montréal-based CBD's secretariat noted the huge challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but urged people to rethink their relationship to nature as they consider the world's lagging progress towards the 20 Aichi targets. CBD calls its new report a final report card on those off-track targets.
“As nature degrades,” Mrema said, “new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.”
Alarming declines, silver linings
Inger Andersen, executive director of Nairobi-based U.N. Environment, or UNEP, said the damage to the natural world shows people must urgently accelerate and scale-up their collaboration worldwide.
"If we do not, biodiversity will continue to buckle under the weight of land- and sea-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species," she said. "This will further damage human health, economies and societies — with particularly detrimental effects on indigenous peoples and local communities."
Separately, a WWF report last week found population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have decreased on average by 68% from 1970 to 2016. The Swiss-based World Wide Fund for Nature also said a deep cultural and systemic shift is urgently needed to save the planet.
The U.N. biodiversity report shows that humanity is losing "our essential planetary safety net," said Martha Rojas Urrego, secretary general of the Geneva-based Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an international treaty that took effect in 1975.
"We are not on track to meet most of (the) Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and we know that the loss of nature poses grave consequences for us all," said Rojas Urrego, a Colombian and French biologist.
"However, there are reasons for hope. The report shows that we are on track to have at least 17% of terrestrial protected areas and 10% marine protected areas by the end of 2020 — a remarkable accomplishment from where we were a decade ago," she said. "This tells us we can do more, and we must do more, in the coming decade of action.”