Key facts and figures

by Winifred Bird and Jane Singer

Key data drawn from numerous quoted sources here succinctly suggest the enormous range of problems and issues facing delegates to COP10 — and the world.

Overview

* Current extinction rates are between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the “background rate” shown in the fossil record. (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment)

* Up to 70 percent of the world’s known species risk extinction if global temperatures rise by more than 3.5 degrees Celsius. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

* Some 17,291 species out of 47,677 assessed so far — more than a third of the total — are threatened with extinction. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN])

* More than 99 percent of all species that ever existed are now extinct — yet it’s likely that biological diversity has been higher in the past few million years than at any other point in Earth’s history. (“The Diversity of Life,” by Edward O. Wilson)

* Seventy-five percent of genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost. (IUCN)

Forests

* Only half of the world’s original forest cover now remains. (World Resources Institute)

* Every year a parcel of rain forest the size of Panama disappears. (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO])

* Over half of land-dwelling animal and plant species live in forests. (Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 [GB03])

Oceans

*Three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are fully or over-exploited. (FAO)

* At least 1 trillion fish are caught each year, according to a new study titled “Worse Things Happen at Sea.” (published at fishcount.org.uk)

* A third of the world’s reef-building corals are threatened with extinction. (IUCN)

* A quarter of all marine fish species live in tropical coral reefs, and up to 1 billion people rely on them for food. (GBO3)

* Coral reefs are valued at between $100,000 and $1 million per hectare per year. (The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity 2009, Climate Issues Update)

* Eighty-five percent of the world’s oyster reefs have been lost. (GBO3)

In 2002, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to significantly slow biodiversity loss by 2010. This year, the secretariat of the CBD took a look at how they’d done. The results? An “F” for the world in biodiversity conservation.

Here are some highlights of the report, titled Global Biodiversity Outlook 3. (Full text is at gbo3.cbd.int) The Living Planet Index monitors more than 7,000 populations of vertebrates worldwide. It notes that 31 percent of them have declined in abundance since 1970.

* Of 292 large river systems worldwide, two-thirds are fragmented by dams and reservoirs.

* In China, 46,000 varieties of rice were cultivated in the 1950s; today, just 1,000 are. However, many plant varieties have been saved in seed banks.

* Oxygen-starved coastal “dead zones,” caused by high levels of nitrogen runoff, have doubled every 10 years since the 1960s. Some 500 of these areas now exist.

Top five direct causes of biodiversity loss

1. Habitat loss and degradation (most often caused by conversion to agriculture).

2. Climate change.

3. Pollution, in particular excess nitrogen and phosphorous in aquatic ecosystems.

4. Unsustainable use, especially hunting of bushmeat, overfishing, and harvesting of rare wild plants.

5. Invasive alien species.

Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assesment: Biodiversity Synthesis Figures (full text at www.millenniumassessment.org).