The UK is one of the world’s most impoverished countries – and may not have enough biodiversity to prevent an ecological meltdown, according to new data.
The UK has on average only 53% of its biodiversity left, well below the global average of 75%, according to analysis from the Natural History Museum published on Sunday.
Both figures are below the 90% average, which experts consider the “safe limit” for preventing the world from tipping into an “ecological recession” – a future in which ecosystems do not have enough biodiversity to function well, leading to to crop failures and attacks that can cause shortages of food, energy and materials.
Biodiversity represents the diversity of plant and animal life on Earth, and scientists say it is declining rapidly.
“Much of the world has lost a large amount of its natural biodiversity,” said Dr. Adriana De Palma from the Natural History Museum.
“These systems have lost enough biodiversity to mean that we need to be careful about trusting that they work the way we need them.”
Researchers at the museum have developed the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which measures the percentage of nature that remains in an area.
Britain’s 53% BII places it in the bottom 10% of the world’s countries and last among the G7 group of nations.
Britain’s long – standing low position in the league table is linked to the Industrial Revolution, said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History’s life sciences department.
“It mechanized the destruction of nature to an extent and converted it into goods for profit,” he said.
The UK has seen relatively stable biodiversity levels in recent years, albeit at a “really low level,” said Drs. De Palma.
Although the country has seen some increases in the amount of high-quality natural vegetation that helps support native species, these gains have been offset by the expansion of cultivated fields and urban areas as well as population growth, she explained in a press conference.
The UK can solve the problem, but “from a global biodiversity perspective, we hope it does not come at the expense of just offsetting biodiversity damage elsewhere,” said Professor Purvis, a world-renowned expert on biodiversity measurements.
The team from the Natural History Museum hopes their BII tool will help global leaders meet for the UN Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, next week.
The conference, hosted by China, will take place online on 11-15. October, and another round will be held in the city of Kunming next spring.
Dealers are tasked with agreeing on a new set of goals for nature over the next 10 years.
None of the world’s last wildlife protection targets set in Aichi, Japan, in 2010 were met.
“This is our last best chance for a sustainable future,” Professor Purvis said of COP15.
He stressed the need for action that recognizes that developed countries have a stable but low level of biodiversity intact, while developing countries have a high level that is rapidly declining – a “global leveling.”
He said: “Loss of biodiversity is just as potentially catastrophic for humans as climate change, but the solutions are intertwined.
“Stopping further damage to the planet requires major changes, but we can do it if we act together now.
“Muddling through, as we are currently doing, is nowhere near enough to stop, let alone reverse, the ongoing worldwide decline in biodiversity.”