Ecological Emergency

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PACT and others are asking councils to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency.

What is the Ecological Emergency?

Human activities are producing carbon dioxide and other gases to cause rapid climate change. This fast change of climate is likely to have significant effect on ecology in many way eg warmer temperatures suit different species forcing species to move or die out.q 

We are affecting the environment in many other ways, causing an Ecological Emergency including loss of biodiversity.  In 2019, UN scientists said that "Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history - and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely".  Discarded plastic and other pollution along with over-use of herbicides and pesticides are damaging us and the environment and reducing biodiversity across land and sea.  The 2016 UK State of Nature suggests that the UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and the 2017 State of UK Birds reports, for example, farmland bird numbers reducing by more than half since 1970.

Solutions to these problems must be led by governments eg by implementing the UN "Aichi" biodiversity strategy with the help of businesses and individuals, with the aim of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050. Action has been taken in the past eg on eliminating CFCs that produced the hole in the ozone layer and in the UK by banning plastic microbeads . More significant action is now needed: collectively we need to ensure we live within our ecological means and minimise our impact on the environment. Action on climate change and the ecological emergency will improve our lives and save the planet.

The 2050 UN target date seems far away. However action needs to be taken now to start us moving in the right direction.

Background notes

  1. Climate change is a major driver of ecological stress and extinction. "Climate change can alter where species live, how they interact, and the timing of biological events, which could fundamentally transform current ecosystems and food webs. Climate change can overwhelm the capacity of ecosystems to mitigate extreme events and disturbance, such as wildfires, floods, and drought. Mountain and arctic ecosystems and species are particularly sensitive to climate change. Projected warming could greatly increase the rate of species extinctions, especially in sensitive regions."q
  2. In May 2019 a comprehensive report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said that "Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history - and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely".  The drivers of this change are "(1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species". The report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.
  3. Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980ᵃ with microplastics now found everywhere on land and in the sea.
  4. Chemicals such as fertiliser ammonia degrade the biochemistry of soil and natural ecosystems.
  5. Herbicides and pesticides destroy natural ecosystems and natural protection mechanisms, with run-off polluting water courses.
  6. The State of Nature report in 2016 suggests that the UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Since 1970, 40% of species showed strong or moderate declines, while 29% showed similar increases. 15% [of endangered species] are now extinct or threatened with extinction. Policy-driven agricultural change was by far the most significant driver of declines.
  7. The 2017 State of the UK’s Birds report says that farmland birds have reduced by more than half since 1970 and, for example, the Curlew has declined by 65% over the same period.
  8. Over-use of natural resources have reduced fish and animal populations dramatically while elimination of predators upsets the balance of nature . UN trade and development body UNCTAD says that "90% of fish stocks are used up" ʰ .  An area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch is now being cleared every single minute ʲ. The UK is 30-40 years away from 'eradication of soil fertility' . Alien species invasions are a growing pressure on the natural world, which are extremely difficult to reverse.ᵒ  We rely on a narrow genetic pool of crops and animals, and wild relatives with more genetic diversity are under threat.
  9. The Anthropocene is the proposed name for the current geological epoch, indicating the growing human influence on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity, and species extinction.ˡ
  10. More information on Mass Extinction, Insect die-off, Pollution and Soil here:

UN Convention on Biological Diversity

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity set Aichi Biodiversity Targets for the period 2011-2020. The overall vision is "Living in harmony with nature" where "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people." The strategic goals are:

  1. Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  2. Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
  3. To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  4. Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  5. Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

These need to be taken forward for the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.