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Biodiversity and nature’s contributions continue dangerous decline, scientists warn

Harvest fields in Poland (Marius Szczygiel/
"The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature"

Biodiversity continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s well-being. This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere, according to four landmark science reports written by more than 550 leading experts from over 100 countries, including scientists from the James Hutton Institute.

The result of three years’ work, the four regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services cover the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, as well as Europe and Central Asia – the entire planet except the poles and the open oceans. The assessment reports were approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in Medellín, Colombia, at the 6th session of its Plenary.

Sir Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES, said: “Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life.

“The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead. Fortunately, the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets.”

The extensively peer-reviewed IPBES assessment reports focus on providing answers to key questions for each of the four regions, including: why is biodiversity important, where are we making progress, what are the main threats and opportunities for biodiversity and how can we adjust our policies and institutions for a more sustainable future?

In every region, with the exception of a number of positive examples where lessons can be learned, biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures – habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change, among others.

The James Hutton Institute contributed to the regional assessment for Europe and Central Asia (ECA) through social scientists Dr Kirsty Blackstock and Dr Anke Fischer, both based at the Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group in Aberdeen.

Dr Blackstock and Dr Fischer co-authored chapter 6 of the ECA assessment, “Options for governance, institutions and decision-making”, focusing on environmental governance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as communication, capacity building and public participation. The chapter also includes a reference to Scotland’s Land Use Strategy 2016-2021.

Each IPBES assessment also includes chapters covering the following subjects:

  • Policy-relevant questions and themes
  • Nature’s contributions to people
  • Status, trends and near future dynamics
  • Direct and indirect drivers of change in nature
  • Interactions between the natural world and society

For further details about the IPBES plenary and assessment reports, visit the IPBES website.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.