More species are threatened with extinction than previously thought, with almost a third either gone or threatened with extinction in the last 500 years.
That is according to a major new global study in one of the foremost scientific journals, which combined data from thousands of international biodiversity experts.
Professor Johannes Knops, a researcher at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University and one of more than 60 experts who co-authored the study published in biodiversity loss was arguably more critical than the challenge of climate change., said
“Biodiversity loss is one of our biggest environmental challenges in the world, probably more important than climate change. The problem of climate change can be corrected by stopping the emission of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you lose a species, it’s gone forever,” he said.
The scientists found that since 1500, 30% of species have been threatened with extinction or driven extinct.
If current trends continue, this could increase to 37% by 2100 but with swift and extensive conservation efforts, it can be lowered to 25%, they found.
The most influential factors for biodiversity loss are climate change, pollution, and land- and sea-use change and exploitation, the scientists said.
“Biodiversity loss occurs in many different places, and there are gaps in our common understanding of it. This collaboration can help us reach a consensus on where to make efforts to improve biodiversity,” Prof Knops added.
Up to 1m wild species are facing extinction, many within decades — leaving billions of people who rely on them for food and income exposed as the biodiversity crisis worsens, a UN-backed report earlier this month found,
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report also warned that the likes of medicine, energy, and materials are under threat because of biodiversity loss.
Some 70% of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species, co-chair Dr Marla R Emery of the US and Norway said.
“One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income, 2.4bn rely on fuel wood for cooking and about 90% of the 120m people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing.”
Last month, at a national biodiversity forum in Dublin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin admitted political leaders have not taken the crisis seriously enough, despite ample warnings from environmental experts.
Mr Martin said it was a “great mistake of our species to think that we are separate from nature”, adding the two challenges of climate change and the biodiversity crisis were intrinsically linked.
According to figures from the National Biodiversity Centre, some 31,000 species are known to occur in Ireland, but the conservation status of only about 10% has been assessed.
In 2019, the National Parks and Wildlife Service released Ireland’s sixth national report to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, with stark findings that 91% of protected habitats are in poor or inadequate condition, and more than 50% are declining. Some 14% of species assessed are considered to be endangered, it said.