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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Biodiversity Loss Must Stop to Protect the One in Five People Dependent on Wild Species


A new report out from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) lays out important policy considerations necessary to address hastening biodiversity loss and its repercussions for the one in five people whose sustenance and income are directly linked to roughly 50,000 wild species. With species loss occurring at breakneck speeds, the Sustainable Use Assessment establishes the importance of taking immediate action to preserve threatened species and maintain the livelihoods and wellbeing of billions of people. However, a shift in societal values, along with strategic financing, will be necessary in order to implement the bulk of IPBES’ suggestions.

People living in poverty stand to suffer the most from biodiversity loss. Around 70 percent of them rely on wild species and the businesses that are dependent on them, including those linked to subsistence farming, wood fuel, tourism and more. Humans harvest 10,000 wild species for food alone and yet failure to protect those species has resulted in population declines, including a 68 percent decrease in wild animals during a four and a half decades-long period beginning in 1970. Among the causes listed in the IPBES report, unsustainable hunting accounts for 1,341 mammalian species that are currently at risk. Additionally, overfishing affects 34 percent of the oceans’ wild stocks. 

Clearly, a crisis is brewing, but animals are only part of the looming disaster. One in three people depend on timber for cooking fuel, 1.1 billion of which do not have any access to electricity or other sources of energy for food preparation. Yet, unsustainable logging has put 12 percent of wild tree species in danger, along with a lot of humanity’s ability to cook. Much of this is due to unauthorized trade. An estimated $69 to $200 billion is generated each year through illegally traded wild species, with wood and fish being the most heavily exploited. 

Protected wild areas alone generate $600 billion per year from 8 billion visitors. Many local accommodations and restaurants as well as individual guides and artisans depend on the tourist industry to stay in business, meaning species loss directly threatens their livelihoods.

“Without wild species, our whole planet unravels. Billions of people rely on wild species for food, medicine, energy and clean water. They are especially critical for the livelihoods of vulnerable people in rural areas, who depend on them for subsistence, income and cultural needs. Our modern global economy increases the threats to biodiversity due to pressures from local demand and global trade,” IPBES Lead Author and the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Forest Lead Scientist, Pablo Pacheco, explained in his response to the report’s release.

In order to stop wild species loss and protect the people who rely on those species for survival, IPBES recommends enacting systems and policies with certain essential facets, such as encouraging active participation by those affected; utilizing information from a variety of sources (including indigenous knowledge); making sure that costs and benefits are felt fairly; ensuring that policies are a good fit for local circumstances; keeping track of wild species and how practices are affecting them; cohesion between policy at international, regional and local levels while maintaining local customs; and, of course, powerful, dynamic institutions.

IPBES also recognizes societal change as imperative to stopping biodiversity loss and suggests that values and goals can be influenced to promote justice and sustainability among the broader population. In the press release for another report, the IPBES concluded, “The way nature is valued in political and economic decisions is both a key driver of the global biodiversity crisis and a vital opportunity to address it.” 

Study co-chair Dr. Brigitte Baptiste explained, “Recognizing and respecting the worldviews, values and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities allows policies to be more inclusive, which also translates into better outcomes for people and nature. Also, recognizing the role of women in the stewardship of nature and overcoming power asymmetries frequently related to gender status, can advance the inclusion of the diversity of values in decisions about nature.”

Unfortunately, putting these transformative changes in place won’t be easy. In a world that is consistently sold to the highest bidder, how will those with increasingly more power and money be convinced to care about the well-being of those with increasingly less? It’s not an easy question to answer, but one that must be committed to for the sake of the planet’s wild species and the people that rely on them.

Image credit: Zinko Hein via Unsplash

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop. 

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