Nature’s decline ‘unprecedented’ in human history: 1 million species threatened with extinction

06-05-2019 | News item

The current global efforts are insufficient to stop the unprecedented decline of nature: transformative societal changes are necessary to stop the loss of biodiversity and to recover nature. This is the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that appears in the Global Assessment today. The assessment researches the causes for the loss of biodiversity, the implications for people worldwide, and options for bending the curve of loss of biodiversity. The Global Assessment is prepared by 150 leading international experts from 50 countries, among them are four Dutch experts from several Dutch institutions.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and the rate at which species go extinct is accelerating. This likely has grave impacts on people around the world. Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction if mankind proceeds in the same manner. “The health of ecosystems on which we, and all other species, depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” says IPBES Chair Sir Bob Watson.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” Watson: “The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global. Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved and restored.”

International goals out of reach

The assessment shows that there is good progress on just 4 of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and that it is likely that most targets will be missed by the 2020 deadline. The main causes of this are changes in use of land, for instance by deforestation caused by expansion of agriculture, the exploitation of species for instance by fishing, and the introduction of invasive species. With climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics – its impact is expected to increase over the coming decades.

The 132 IPBES-member states discussed the Global Assessment Report during the 7th session of the IPBES plenary meeting in Paris last week (29 April – 4 May). During these meetings they approved the report and decided on a summary for policy makers. It is the most comprehensive report on biodiversity ever completed. It is the first intergovernmental Report of its kind and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005. It is an important milestone on the road to the big conference on the UN-biodiversity treaty November 2020 in China. It is now time for nations, the industry, and societal groups both in The Netherlands and worldwide to make the next move by reworking the contents of this report into policy and true action.

Effects for poor and vulnerable people

The report pays a lot of attention to the effects that the decline of nature has on the poorest and most vulnerable people worldwide. A further decline of nature would undermine the progress made on global goals concerning poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans, the use of land, or in other words, around 80% of the 44 researched targets of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN. The IPBES Global Assessment also provides insight into the contribution that nature can deliver for the realisation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Transformative change necessary

Based on scenario-analysis and local, indigenous insights and knowledge systems, the report shows that only when the underlying causes of the loss of biodiversity are dealt with, nature preservation and sustainable use of nature can be realised.

This asks for transformative change. According to this report, this means a fundamental, system-wide reorganization of technological, economic and social factors, including a shift in paradigms, goals and values. Our society and economy must be transformed to be more sustainable. The report states that only if we, as individuals and society as a whole, change our relationship with nature and our appreciation of nature, we will be able to protect nature for ourselves and other species. This means, for instance, changing unsustainable agriculture, fishing and agricultural subsidies.

Science and policy

The challenge for the IPBES Global Assessment was to combine and integrate scientific knowledge in a way that it becomes relevant for all the member states. The IPBES member states held intensive negotiations about the summary for policy makers in order to make the conclusions of the summary useful to everyone. In this way, the assessment acts as a much-needed bridge between science and policy making.

Dutch experts

  • Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers has been appointed Professor of Environmental governance and politics at Radboud University with effect from 15 may 2019. She is Coordinating Lead Author (CLA) of the chapter with policy options for policy makers and one of the authors of the summary for policy makers.
  • Esther Turnhout is Full Professor at the Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group of Wageningen University & Research. She has been involved as an expert with IPBES since 2014 and she is one of the lead authors of the chapter outlining options for policy makers.
  • Marcel Kok is Programme Leader International Biodiversity Policy at the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. He is one of the authors of the chapter on pathways to a sustainable future.
  • Rob Alkemade is the Head of the IPBES Technical Support Unit at the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. He supports the scenario-work at IPBES. He is Professor by special appointment of Global Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at the Environmental Systems Analysis chair group at Wageningen University & Research. He is one of the authors of the chapters that analysed future scenarios for nature.


  • A detailed ‘Summary for Policy Makers’ of the report, highlighting key messages, findings and options.

Want to know more? Please contact