The accelerating global biodiversity crisis, with one million species of plants and animals facing extinction, is threatening the enormous benefits people derive from wild species, according to a major new international report.

One-in-five people rely on wild species for food and income, while humans use 50,000 wild species to meet their needs every day.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report states that climate change and rising demand are posing significant challenges to the sustainable use of wild species and calls for transformative changes to ensure sustainability.

The report, assessing the sustainability of how humans use wild species - including plants, animals, fungi, and algae - is the result of four years of work by 85 leading scientific experts, 200 contributing authors drawing on 6,200 sources on behalf of 139 member states around the world.

It is the most-detailed analysis ever produced of how important wild species are for food, energy, materials, medicine, recreation, inspiration and many other vital contributions to human well-being.

It warns that overexploitation is a huge threat to the survival of wild species and calls for that to be reversed.

About 50,000 wild species are used for food, energy, medicine, material, and other purposes through fishing, gathering, logging and terrestrial animal harvesting.

Deforestation in Canada (Courtesy: IPBES)
Scuba divers over coral reef (Courtesy: IPBES)

More than 10,000 wild species are harvested for food alone with another 40,000 gathered logged or harvested for other uses every day.

Approximately 70% of the world's poor are directly dependent on nature's bounty including 7,500 species of wild fish and aquatic invertebrates, 31,100 species of wild plants including trees and fungi, 1,700 species of wild land-based invertebrates, and 7,500 species of wild amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

One-third of humanity - about 2.4 billion people - rely on fuel wood for cooking, including 1.1 billion people without access to electricity.

Meanwhile, people make about 8 billion visits to wildlife-protected areas each year, generating approximately €600bn in global tourism revenue.

The report warns however that 12% of wild tree species are threatened by unsustainable logging,1,341 wild mammal species are threatened by unsustainable hunting practices, 34% of marine wild fish stocks are overfished and the annual value of illegal trade in wild species could be up to €196 billion, making it the third-largest class of illegal trade in the world.

South African Professor John Donaldson is one of the co-chairs of the IPBES assessment report.

Prof Donaldson said over-exploitation is one of the main threats to the survival of many land-based and aquatic species in the wild.

He said addressing the causes of unsustainable use and, wherever possible reversing these trends, will result in better outcomes for wild species and the people who depend on them.

Coral Reef near Taravai

Director of UCD's Earth Institute and chair of the National Biodiversity Forum, Professor Tasman Crowe, said humans have "an intimate relationship with nature" and urged people to "think carefully about the relationship and how to improve it".

Speaking to RTÉ's News at One about the report, he said it reminds us that biodiversity is rapidly being lost.

"We're damaging and replacing ecosystems with our own infrastructure and activity, and the report warns that over exploitation is a huge threat to the survival of wild species and calls for that to be reversed," Prof Crowe said.

"In fact, it's the second biggest cause of biodiversity loss after habitat destruction."

Prof Crowe said that biodiversity is essential for mitigating climate change. In Ireland, there is a "strong dependency" on wild species, he added.

"There's a big push in Europe to, sort of, manage our interactions with nature and then do a better job of conserving and restoring nature."

The report identifies drivers such as land and seascape changes, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species that impact the abundance and distribution of wild species and can increase stress and challenges among the human communities that use them.

It also identifies actions that could help address the challenges in each sector.

In fishing, it calls for inefficiencies to be addressed, for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to be reduced, for harmful financial subsidies to be suppressed, and for small-scale fisheries to be supported.

In the area of forestry exploitation and logging, it urges greater management and certification of forests for multiple uses, technological innovations to reduce waste in manufacturing of wood products, and economic and political initiatives that recognise the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, including land tenure.

The IPBES assessment report is titled "The Sustainable Use of Wild Species".

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Here are some of the key statistics and facts from the report:

  • Globally about 50,000 wild species are used for food, energy, medicine, material and other purposes through fishing, gathering, logging and terrestrial animal harvesting.
  • More than 10,000 wild species are harvested for human food with one-in-five people dependent on such species for income and food.
  • About 70% of the world's poor are directly dependent on wild species and on businesses fostered by them.
  • Humans directly consume or use:
  • - 7,500 species of wild fish and aquatic invertebrates
  • - 31,100 species of wild plants (including 7,400 trees, 1,500 species of fungi, and 7,400 species of wild trees)
  • - 1,700 species of wild land-based invertebrates, and
  • - 7,500 species of wild amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
  • We make about 8 billion visits to wildlife-protected areas each year, generating about €600 billion in tourism revenue.
  • One-third of humanity - about 2.4 billion people - rely on fuel wood for cooking, including 1.1 billion people without access to electricity.
  • Two-thirds of global industrial roundwood is provided by wild tree species.
  • 12% of wild tree species threatened by unsustainable logging.
  • 1,341 wild mammal species are threatened by unsustainable hunting practices, including 669 species already assessed as threatened.
  • 55%-75% of wild meat biomass is derived from hunting large mammals.
  • 34% of marine wild fish stocks are overfished.
  • 449 species of sharks and rays are classified as threatened mostly as a result of unsustainable fishing practices.
  • The annual value of illegal trade in wild species (especially timber and fish) could be up to €196 billion, making it the third largest class of illegal trade worldwide.