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Biggest Biodiversity Study in a Decade Finds Current Biodiversity Loss Dangerous for Human Well-Being
The report, a compilation of four regional assessments on the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Europe and Central Asia, was compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent research organization comprised of 129 member governments that has been described as "the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of biodiversity," according to an IPBES release.
The assessments, which were approved at the IPBES Plenary in Medellín, Colombia, were the work of three years and more than 550 experts. They concluded that biodiversity was declining to such an extent in all the regions studied as to put nature's ability to support human well-being at risk.
"The best available evidence, gathered by the world's leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature—or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead," IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson said in the release.
For example, the Asia-Pacific assessment found that, if fishing continues in the region at current rates, there will be nothing left to fish by 2048. In addition, more than half of all African mammal and bird species could be extinct due to climate change by 2100.
The current loss of biodiversity in all four regions also threatens their ability to meet the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), not to mention other UN benchmarks such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the goals set by the Paris agreement on climate change.
"Acting to protect and promote biodiversity is at least as important to achieving these commitments and to human wellbeing as is the fight against global climate change," IPBES Executive Secretary Dr. Anne Larigauderie said.
However, ranking the importance of the two may be beside the point, since they are intimately connected.
More biodiversity helps protect against the effects of climate change, as Larigauderie explained.
"Richer, more diverse ecosystems are better able to cope with disturbances—such as extreme events and the emergence of diseases," she said.
And climate change, along with over-use of resources, habitat destruction, pollution and the spread of invasive, non-native species, is one of the driving forces behind biodiversity loss, the report found.
For example, if current trends continue, the assessment on the Americas found that climate change will overtake changing use of land as the number one cause of biodiversity loss in the region.
The results also reflect the legacy of colonialism. The populations of Europe and Central Asia use more renewable resources than the landmass can currently produce. Populations of species in the Americas are 31 percent smaller than they were when European colonization began, and could be 40 percent smaller by 2050.
The report held up indigenous knowledge and land-use practices as potential models for how to use natural resources for human benefit while still protecting biodiversity. However, the cultures that possess this knowledge are also in jeopardy. More than 60 percent of indigenous languages and cultures in the Americas are declining or dying.
The report wasn't entirely negative. It pointed to the fact that, in the Asia-Pacific region, forest area has increased by 2.5 percent in 25 years and the number of marine areas under protection has grown by 14 percent in the same timeframe, though more needs to be done to reverse biodiversity loss in the region.
The assessments also proposed policy solutions governments could adapt to protect and promote biodiversity.
"Although there are no 'silver bullets' or 'one-size-fits all' answers, the best options in all four regional assessments are found in better governance, integrating biodiversity concerns into sectoral policies and practices (e.g. agriculture and energy), the application of scientific knowledge and technology, increased awareness and behavioural changes," Watson said.
On the individual level, Watson recommended wasting less energy, food and water and eating a more sustainable diet that emphasizes chicken and vegetables and avoids beef, The Guardian reported.
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The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.