We're Witnessing A Mass Global Extinction of Animals -- And Australia Needs To Act Now

One million species are threatened with extinction and nature is declining at an unprecedented rate as a result of human activities, according to a new UN report.

The report, produced by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that the health of ecosystems is in steep decline and biodiversity is decreasing across the globe.

The research was the most comprehensive picture of declining biodiversity ever produced, with 145 expert authors from 50 countries contributing to the paper.

Sea turtle surrounded by plastic pollution. Source: Getty.

The authors found the average abundance of native species in most major land habitats has fallen by at least 20 percent, with the majority of these lost since 1900.

More than one million species are threatened with extinction, which is more than has ever been seen before in human history -- and many of these species will be lost within decades.

More than a third of the world's land and 75 percent of the Earth's freshwater resources are now occupied by crop or livestock production. This extreme habitat competition has proved to be one of the primary reasons for species decline.

Professor Josef Settele, one of the paper's authors, said that "ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing."

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"The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed," Settele said.

The report also notes that plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, and around 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other industrial waste are entering coastal ecosystems every year.

Newborn possum. Source: Getty.

More than 400 ocean 'dead zones' have been identified as a result of this pollution, amounting to more than 245,000 square kilometres (an area larger than the United Kingdom).

Basha Stasak, nature program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), told 10 daily the devastation humans are causing to the natural environment will have direct consequences for our way of life.

"As kids we sort of grow up with 'the circle of life' and that's literally how it works. The natural system is our life support system, it helps provide our food, our water, and our stable climate," Stasak said.

The IPBES report examines how the decline of natural species and the world's natural ecosystems will erode the foundations of human economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life.

More than 75 percent of global food crop types, such as fruit, vegetables, and coffee, rely on animal pollination to propagate.

Stasak said that Australia is not exempt from these repercussions and that whichever party wins the federal election will need to act quickly to overhaul outdated environmental laws and slow the deforestation that occurs on Australian soil.

"One of the key things that we've seen happen is massive cuts to the Australian federal environment budget...we need to see that turned around and we need to see a massive reinvestment in the Australian environment," Stasak said.

The koala has been threatened by extensive deforestation in Australia. Source: Getty.

Stasak notes the deforestation that's occurring in Australia is comparable to the mass destruction taking place in the Amazon; Australia has lost 25 percent of its rainforest and 45 percent of its open forest in the past 200 years.

This deforestation has led to significant declines in the populations of Leadbeater's possum (Victoria's animal emblem), the mountain pygmy possum and the koala.

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Koalas, which were once distributed widely throughout Australia's forests and woodlands, are dwindling in numbers throughout NSW and Queensland. In NSW, Koala populations declined by over a quarter in 21 years and they may face extinction in the state by 2050 as a result of land clearing.

Logging truck, Tasmania. Source: Getty.

Stasak said she would like to see the establishment of an independent environmental authority in Australia, similar to the US' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rally against government and industry practices that are threatening the natural environment.

Global leaders will meet next year in China to discuss the impending ecological emergencies the IPBES report outlines, in a summit similar to the 2015 UN conference which produced the Paris Agreement.

Stasak said that whatever Australia's next government following the May election, she hopes our representatives go to these talks "showing leadership" and taking their commitments seriously.