efe-epaBy Marta Grande Paris

Planet Earth faces a mammoth challenge: one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction, many in the coming decades, unless there is a radical change in the methods of production and consumption, the largest report on biodiversity to date warned.

The report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), presented at Unesco on Monday, pinpointed human activity as the main culprit in this extreme situation.

"The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture," Robert Watson, IPBES Chairperson said.

"The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," Watson added.

Experts from 50 countries worked for three years to compile a report on the state of the planet's biodiversity and ecosystems across the last five decades.

Experts have offered a grim diagnosis of the impact of economic development on nature and its nearly eight million species.

The deterioration of the planet has reached unprecedented levels in human history and life on Earth as we know it is dangerously close to a turning point, Argentinian expert and coordinating lead author of the study, Sandra Díaz, told Efe.

At least 680 species of vertebrates have disappeared since the 16th century and more than 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of coral reefs and more than one-third of marine mammals are in danger.

A provisional estimate places the percentage of threatened insect species at 10 percent.

Between 1980 and 2000, some 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost, mainly for livestock raising in Latin America and plantations of mostly palm oil in Southeast Asia.

We tend to think that human beings are beyond the negative effects of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems, but everything is interconnected.

Nature contributes to regulating the climate or the quality of the air and offers us food and energy, thus alterations within nature have a direct impact on human life and economic development in the world.

In order to put it into context, this negative trend will make it challenging to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 across 80 percent of the analyzed case studies in the areas of poverty and famine, among others.

The sharp decline the IPBES warns of is as much an environmental issue as a social one.

The study, which is the first intergovernmental one on this scale, rules out meeting the global biodiversity targets set for the period between 2011 and 2020, but its authors trust that it will serve as a roadmap for the UN's convention on biodiversity in China next year.

Whilst governments and policy makers face huge challenges to tackle the gloomy forecast, it is not too late to change course, the report's authors said.

However changes need to start immediately and at all levels, the IPBES, an independent body promoted in 2012 by several UN agencies and composed of more than 130 governments, warned.

The establishment of effective fishing quotas and protected marine areas, the promotion of practices that reduce soil erosion and sustainable agriculture are some of the key tips the IPBES suggest decision-makers implement.

Taking advantage of the environmental knowledge of indigenous communities and adjusting harmful subsidy policies for biodiversity could also be instrumental in designing policies to protect the planet from further decline.

Containing the rise in global temperature below two degrees centigrade is also crucial: the percentage of species at risk of extinction with global warming of two degrees would be 5 percent, and 16 percent with a 4.3-degree rise.

The information provided on Monday outlines only the main conclusions of a report that is over 1,500 pages long and to be published in full later this year.

"How much more evidence do we need to realize that we can not continue like this," asked the Argentine expert. EFE-EPA

mgr/ch/hh