(RIO DE JANEIRO, BELGIUM) — Every day, billions of people rely on wild plants and animals for food, medicine, and energy. However, according to a new United Nations-backed report, overexploitation, climate change, pollution, and deforestation are pushing one million species to extinction.

vital species to extinction
On April 27, 2019, Brazilian Filomena Freitas harvests cupuacu tree fruits at the Boa Esperanca community in the Amana Sustainable Development Reserve, Amazonas State, northern Brazil. The goal is to integrate science and traditional knowledge in order to protect biodiversity and livelihoods. Getty Images/EVARISTO SA

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services—or IPBES—report, unless humans improve their sustainable use of nature, the Earth will lose 12 percent of its wild tree species, over a thousand wild mammal species, and nearly 450 shark and ray species, among other irreparable harm.

According to the report, humans use approximately 50,000 wild species on a regular basis, and one out of every five people on the planet’s 7.9 billion population rely on those species for food and income. One in every three people cooks with wood, a figure that is even higher in Africa.

“Those uses must be sustainable if they are to be available for your children and grandchildren.” So when the uses of wild species become unsustainable, it’s bad for the species, bad for the ecosystem, and bad for the people,” United States report co-chair Marla R. Emery told The Associated Press.

Aside from the bleak picture, the report offers policymakers recommendations and examples of sustainable use of wild fauna and flora. According to the report, securing tenure rights for Indigenous and local peoples who have historically made sustainable use of wild species should be a priority.

Indigenous peoples occupy approximately 38,000,000 square kilometers (14,600,000 square miles) of land in 87 countries, accounting for approximately 40% of terrestrial conserved areas, according to the study.

“Their lands tend to be more sustainable than other lands.” “And the common thread is the ability to continue to engage in customary practices,” said Emery, a U.S. Forest Service researcher.

Emery argued that it is critical to secure national and international systems, such as education, that promote the preservation of Indigenous languages because it preserves older members’ ability to pass on traditional knowledge about sustainable practices to future generations.

Fishing for arapaima, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, in Brazil’s Amazon is an example of good practice, according to the co-chair of the report Jean-Marc Fromentin of France.

“It was a transition from an unsustainable to a sustainable situation,” said Fromentin. “Some Brazilian communities established community-based management and then enlisted the help of scientists to learn more about the biology of the fish and to set up an effective monitoring system.” It worked so well that the model was replicated in other communities and countries, including Peru.”

Gregorio Mirabal, the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, who did not participate in the report, told the Associated Press that several United Nations studies have highlighted the importance of biodiversity and the threats posed by climate change, but they have not resulted in solutions.

The Indigenous leader mentioned growing issues in the area, such as water contamination from illegal mining and oil spills. Furthermore, those who oppose these practices are subjected to violence, as evidenced by the recent murder of an Indigenous warrior in a mining area in Venezuela.

“There is irrational exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon, but there is no social investment to improve Indigenous peoples’ health, educational, cultural, and food situation,” Mirabal said.

Representatives from the 139 member countries gathered this week in Bonn, Germany, approved the report. It involved dozens of experts, ranging from scientists to Indigenous knowledge holders. IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body that is not part of the United Nations system, but it is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme and other organizations.

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