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IPBES Report on biodiversity loss

May 2019: The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reports that more than 1 million animal and plant species are under threat of extinction over the next decades due to human activities. The risk can be reduced by removing or redirecting perverse subsidies, increasing the number of protected areas, and moving away from economic growth as a measure for quality of life.


The UN’s IPBES report outlines that more than 1 million plants and animals (25%) are threatened with extinction over the next decades as a result of human activity. Biodiversity in natural ecosystems declined by 47% on average in relation to their earliest estimated states and the global biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%. The report is the result of a three-year project assessing 15,000 academic studies focusing on the interactions of biodiversity, climate, and human wellbeing. Key drivers are agriculture and fishing with particularly high impact from crop and fertilizer industries as well as meat and dairy industries that use 25% of the world’s ice free land as grazing areas for cattle. Land degradation reduced the Earth’s productivity by 23% and pollinator loss has put up to £440bn of crop output at risk. The report further identifies climate change as an underlying and contributing factor to this development but not as its main driver. This unprecedented threat of biodiversity loss closely relates to global population growth, urbanisation, economic growth and land conversion.

Implications & Opportunities

A loss of biodiversity at this rate could lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems threatening global food security and undermining the resilience of agricultural systems. This could lead to cascading effects resulting in freshwater shortages and heightened climate instability. To reduce the risk of biodiversity loss, the report suggests “transformative change” that entails moving away from GDP as a key measurement for economic growth towards a holistic indicator capturing the quality of life and nature-human interaction. Further, the panel recommends to end and redirect subsidies for fossil fuels, industrial fishing, and agriculture and to increase the number of protected land and sea areas equivalent to a third of their areas. This recommendation includes increased use of local knowledge to understand how to manage natural assets and to include this in future policy design.


The report faces methodological limitations. It uses aggregative methods and estimates to compare the state of biodiversity today with earlier states. In light of this, given percentages should be seen in context of their estimates and should not be treated as absolutes.


International Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. (2019). Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Bonn: IPBS.

BBC. (2019). Nature crisis: Humans “threaten 1m species with extinction” retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.