Scientists release mammoth survey of Nature's vital signs


Medellín (Colombia) (AFP)

Scientists will deliver a comprehensive assessment Friday of the state of biodiversity -- the animals and plants that humankind depends on to survive but has driven into a mass species extinction.

The labor of some 600 scientists over three years, four reports will be unveiled in Medellin, Colombia, under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The diagnosis is expected to be dire.

"If we continue the way we are, yes the... sixth mass extinction, the first one ever caused by humans, will continue," IPBES chairman Robert Watson told AFP ahead of the much-anticipated release.

But the good news, he said, "It's not too late" to slow the rate of loss.

Scientists say mankind's voracious consumption and wanton destruction of Nature has unleashed the first mass species die-off since the demise of the dinosaurs -- only the sixth on our planet in half-a-billion years.

The first major biodiversity assessment in 13 years comes in the same week that Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya -- a stark reminder of the stakes.

"The IPBES conference is going to tell us that the situation is continuing to deteriorate, they are going to tell us some ecosystems are being brought to the brink of collapse," WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP on Thursday.

"The IPBES is going to make a strong case for the importance of protecting Nature for our own wellbeing."

- 'A lot of discussion' -

The volunteer experts who compiled the reports, drawing on data from some 10,000 scientific publications, have been discussing their contents with representatives of the IPBES' 129 member countries in Medellin since Saturday.

The contents of five summary reports for government policymakers, each about 40 pages long, were negotiated word-for-word, line-by-line.

The summary reports are condensed versions of five monumental assessments, each about 600-900 pages, which will be published only after the conference.

The first four summaries will be released simultaneously on Friday -- one for each of four world regions -- the Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia.

A fifth report, due March 26, will focus on the global state of soil, which is fast being degraded through pollution, forest-destruction, mining, and unsustainable farming methods that deplete its nutrients.

Together, the five assessments cover the entire Earth except for Antarctica and the open oceans -- those waters beyond national jurisdiction.

The entire process has cost about $5 million (four million euros).

Watson said Thursday that negotiations about the summaries' wording had "required a lot of discussion."

The documents will not be prescriptive, but will offer guidelines on policies that governments could adopt to slow the pace of biodiversity loss, if not halt it.

Sudan's death, said Lambertini, should help raise awareness by pulling on people's heartstrings.

"But it is not enough to change the decision-making at economic and political level that we need to see to protect the planet.

"In order to trigger that political commitment, change in the decision-making at the government level, at the business level, we need to make a case that it's not just ethical and sentimental but that it's also material."