Human knowledge is expanding so fast that the sequence of our discoveries has become disorderly. We have mapped the universe before completing an inventory of life on our own planet.

According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, scientists remain unable to count our living species. Their best guess lies between 5 million and 30 million. A more recent 2011 study suggests a figure of 8.7 million, acknowledging a considerable margin of error. Only 1.2 million species have actually been identified.

The Anthropocene
With rather more certainty, science warns that the current rate of destruction of biodiversity may trigger unpredictable tipping points in our earth support systems. Unlike the troubled science of climate change, these predicted consequences of anthropogenic biodiversity loss remain largely unchallenged, despite their apocalyptic tone.

The link between unnaturally high rates of species extinction and human activity is only one of the factors prompting moves towards the formal declaration of a new geological epoch to succeed the Holocene. A decision to usher in the “Anthropocene” now seems probable, given the evidence that humanity will leave a permanent mark on the earth’s geological record.

Such a radical scientific verdict on the state of the planet adds to the frustration of environmentalists at the stuttering international policy response. The challenge of decoupling our dominant economic model from its inherent abuse of nature is proving too much for the insular mindset of contemporary global leadership.

The scientific community continues to seek effective ways to explain why haemorrhaging biodiversity will sooner or later disturb other pieces in the jigsaw of planetary boundaries. Environmental campaigns, too, are considered more effective if presented on a broader canvas in which ecosystems are protected, not just for their intrinsic value, but also to secure basic human needs of food, water and energy.

It is often said that the countries most affected by climate change are those which are least responsible for it and which lack the means to adapt. Exactly the same is true of biodiversity loss. Furthermore, the undignified scramble for raw materials and genetic blueprints occurs largely in the world’s poorest countries, with insufficient reward for local economic development and poverty reduction.

At the same time, limited financial resources available to promote the sustainable use of biodiversity are skewed in favour of richer countries, mirroring the lack of funding for adaptation to climate change. The multiple sense of injustice felt by the less developed countries symbolises the mountain that must be climbed to tackle environmental change in an unequal world.

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more Biodiversity briefings (updated May 2018)
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity Loss and Planetary Boundaries
Causes of Biodiversity Loss
Climate Change and Biodiversity
Conservation of Biodiversity
Solutions to Biodiversity Loss
Sustainable Development Goals for Biodiversity
Biodiversity Finance and Economics
Biodiversity Access and Benefit-Sharing
Source Material and Useful Links