The Earth is facing a dual crisis of rapid climate change and unprecedented biodiversity loss. A recent UN report on biodiversity estimates the global rate of species extinction is currently tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.
The report estimates that as many as 1 million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction—that’s nearly 11.5 percent of the estimated 8.7 million global species. Put in terms of the global human population (currently around 7.6 billion), it would be like losing the populations of the United States, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland combined. Not only are the species themselves at risk, so is everything connected to them.
These species are all tied to intricate webs of life serving purposes beyond their mere existence. The ecosystem services provided by diverse species are crucial to the survival of life within their spheres of influence, especially our own survival. Among other things, biodiversity supports food security, dietary health, and livelihood sustainability; provides important resources for medical research; plays an important role in regulating infectious diseases; has social, cultural, and spiritual importance; is essential for climate change adaptation; and can reduce disaster risks and support relief and recovery efforts.
We are facing a monumental challenge, but not an insurmountable one. We can change course and bring the prospect of life back where the future seemed bleak. We’ve done it before, like the successful reintroduction of gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park. In addition, the UN report noted that investment in conservation from 1996-2008 reduced the risk of extinction for mammals and birds in 109 countries by a median value of 29 percent per country.
There is hope for the future, but we must act now. That’s why the National Geographic Society and the Wyss Campaign for Nature have partnered together and are working toward an ambitious goal of achieving 30 percent protection of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. Reaching this goal would help secure the land and water plants and animals need to survive and create a sustainable world to benefit nature and humanity.