1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says "Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity," says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, who warns that species are being lost at an alarming rate.
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1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says

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1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says

1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Humans are pushing the natural world to the brink. That is the takeaway from a sweeping new report out today from some of the world's leading conservation scientists. According to the United Nations-backed report, up to 1 million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction - many within decades. And the authors warn that the loss of all that biodiversity could pose a threat to human well-being.

NPR's Nathan Rott is covering the story and joins us now. Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So - OK. One million species that face possible extinction - ecosystems are in decline; this sounds really grim. Is it as dire as it sounds?

ROTT: Unfortunately, yeah. It's not great. And we can get into the details here in a second. But I do think it is important to say upfront that the authors of this report also say that it is not too late...

CHANG: OK.

ROTT: ...That the worst of this might happen, they're saying - the worst of what might happen, they're saying, can be prevented. And they're calling for a rapid, transformative change around the world to try and address the problems that are causing this unprecedented damage to the natural world.

CHANG: So let's talk about those problems. What's causing them?

ROTT: So the report points to a series of human activities that are depleting biodiversity. I'm just going to name a few, not in any particular order. You've got overfishing, overlogging, just the overconsumption of natural resources at large; pollution from industry, our cars, plastic wrappers; the loss of habitat for plants and animals. Since 1992, urban areas have more than doubled.

CHANG: Wow.

ROTT: And then this number really struck with me. Roughly 75% of freshwater resources and more than one-third of the world's land surface - a third of all of the land on the planet Earth - is now devoted to crop or livestock production.

CHANG: Whoa.

ROTT: That's just...

CHANG: Yeah.

ROTT: Yeah, it's mind-boggling. So - and of course, then there's climate change, which is reshaping entire ecosystems as we know them.

CHANG: All right. This does sound really bleak. But it does seem like we've known about a lot of these problems for a really long time now. Is there anything new about how this report approaches those problems?

ROTT: There is. And yeah, to your point, I mean, whether it's tree die-offs in Sierra Nevada mountains or the Rockies, the bleaching of coral reefs off Florida or Australia, plastic pollution - you know, we have heard many, many, many one-off stories about these problems. We've done some of them on this very program.

The point of this report, which took thousands of those - of these specific papers and hundreds of scientists around the world, was to link all of it together to show that this is a systemic problem and it just - and not just an environmental one. Here's Robert Watson, who headed the report.

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ROBERT WATSON: But it's an economic issue - a development, security, social, ethical and moral issue. Biodiversity has incredible economic value.

ROTT: We need it for agriculture, for medicine, for clean water. So the point is that this isn't just about some fuzzy cute critter that's going to go away or a plant that'll disappear. It's about the future of humanity, too.

CHANG: The future of humanity. I mean, yes, this is obviously a global problem. But I'm curious what places are particularly worse off right now.

ROTT: So we're going to get more of that information in a full report. We've just seen this summary so far. But the main point that we should - have here is that this is an everywhere problem. It even includes here in the U.S.

Collin O'Mara is the head of the National Wildlife Federation and talked about that.

COLLIN O'MARA: Even though we've done a great job, you know, bringing back, you know, deer and ducks and turkeys and a whole range of species and, you know, bald eagles, about one-third of all species right now in the U.S. are at heightened risk of potential extinction in the next couple decades.

ROTT: So yeah, this is very much an issue here at home and everywhere else in the world.

CHANG: That's NPR's Nathan Rott. Thanks, Nate.

ROTT: You're welcome.

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