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Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change

Sandra Díaz [email protected], Josef Settele, Eduardo S. Brondízio, Hien T. Ngo, John Agard, Almut Arneth, Patricia Balvanera, Kate A. Brauman, Stuart H. M. Butchart, Kai M. A. Chan, Lucas A. Garibaldi, Kazuhito Ichii, Jianguo Liu, Suneetha M. Subramanian, Guy F. Midgley, Patricia Miloslavich, Zsolt Molnár, David Obura, Alexander Pfaff, Stephen Polasky, Andy Purvis, Jona Razzaque, Belinda Reyers, Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Yunne-Jai Shin, Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, Katherine J. Willis, and Cynthia N. Zayas Info & Affiliations
13 Dec 2019
Vol 366, Issue 6471

The time is now

For decades, scientists have been raising calls for societal changes that will reduce our impacts on nature. Though much conservation has occurred, our natural environment continues to decline under the weight of our consumption. Humanity depends directly on the output of nature; thus, this decline will affect us, just as it does the other species with which we share this world. Díaz et al. review the findings of the largest assessment of the state of nature conducted as of yet. They report that the state of nature, and the state of the equitable distribution of nature's support, is in serious decline. Only immediate transformation of global business-as-usual economies and operations will sustain nature as we know it, and us, into the future.
Science, this issue p. eaax3100

Structured Abstract


Human actions have long been known to drive declines in nature, and there is growing awareness of how globalization means that these drivers increasingly act at a distance (telecoupling). However, evidence from different disciplines has largely accumulated in parallel, and the global effects of telecouplings have never been addressed comprehensively. Now, the first integrated global-scale intergovernmental assessment of the status, trends, and future of the links between people and nature provides an unprecedented picture of the extent of our mutual dependence, the breadth and depth of the ongoing and impending crisis, and the interconnectedness among sectors and regions.


Human impacts on life on Earth have increased sharply since the 1970s. The world is increasingly managed to maximize the flow of material contributions from nature to keep up with rising demands for food, energy, timber, and more, with global trade increasing the geographic separation between supply and demand. This unparalleled appropriation of nature is causing the fabric of life on which humanity depends to fray and unravel: Most indicators of the state of nature, whether monitored by natural and social scientists or by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, are declining. These include the number and population size of wild species, the number of local varieties of domesticated species, the distinctness of ecological communities, and the extent and integrity of many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. As a consequence, nature’s capacity to provide crucial benefits has also declined, including environmental processes underpinning human health and nonmaterial contributions to human quality of life. The costs are distributed unequally, as are the benefits of an expanding global economy.
These trends in nature and its contributions to people are projected to worsen in the coming decades—unevenly so among different regions—unless rapid and integrated action is taken to reduce the direct drivers responsible for most change over the past 50 years: land and sea use change, direct harvesting of many plants and animals, climate change (whose impacts are set to accelerate), pollution, and the spread of invasive alien species. Exploratory scenarios suggest that a world with increased regional barriers—resonating with recent geopolitical trends—will yield more negative global trends in nature, as well as the greatest disparity in trends across regions, greater than a world with liberal financial markets, and much greater than one that prioritizes and integrates actions toward sustainable development. Evidence from target-seeking scenarios and pathways indicates that a world that achieves many of the global biodiversity targets and sustainability goals related to food, energy, climate, and water is not—yet—beyond reach, but that no single action can get us there.


Our comprehensive assessment of status, trends, and possible futures for nature and people suggests that action at the level of direct drivers of nature decline, although necessary, is not sufficient to prevent further deterioration of the fabric of life on Earth. Reversal of recent declines—and a sustainable global future—are only possible with urgent transformative change that tackles the root causes: the interconnected economic, sociocultural, demographic, political, institutional, and technological indirect drivers behind the direct drivers. As well as a pan-sectoral approach to conserving and restoring the nature that underpins many goals, this transformation will need innovative governance approaches that are adaptive; inclusive; informed by existing and new evidence; and integrative across systems, jurisdictions, and tools. Although the challenge is formidable, every delay will make the task even harder. Crucially, our analysis pinpoints five priority interventions (“levers”) and eight leverage points for intervention in the indirect drivers of global social and economic systems where they can make the biggest difference.
Traditional diversity-rich human landscapes, and the livelihoods and identities that depend on them, face global threats.
Mosaics of crops, forest, and pasture have been maintained for millennia around the world. Now, they are under increasing threat from climate change and large-scale land use change to accommodate global demands for commodities. So are the livelihoods and cultural identity of the peoples that live in them, such as this woman collecting fodder for her flock in the Checacupe district, Perú.


The human impact on life on Earth has increased sharply since the 1970s, driven by the demands of a growing population with rising average per capita income. Nature is currently supplying more materials than ever before, but this has come at the high cost of unprecedented global declines in the extent and integrity of ecosystems, distinctness of local ecological communities, abundance and number of wild species, and the number of local domesticated varieties. Such changes reduce vital benefits that people receive from nature and threaten the quality of life of future generations. Both the benefits of an expanding economy and the costs of reducing nature’s benefits are unequally distributed. The fabric of life on which we all depend—nature and its contributions to people—is unravelling rapidly. Despite the severity of the threats and lack of enough progress in tackling them to date, opportunities exist to change future trajectories through transformative action. Such action must begin immediately, however, and address the root economic, social, and technological causes of nature’s deterioration.

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Published In

Volume 366 | Issue 6471
13 December 2019

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Received: 22 August 2019
Accepted: 11 November 2019
Published in print: 13 December 2019


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We thank the reviewers who provided thoughtful and constructive feedback on this manuscript, which resulted in considerable improvement to the manuscript. We are grateful to the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) Global Assessment Management Committee, review editors and numerous contributing authors, to the IPBES Secretariat and its Technical Support Units, and all the governments and organizations that supported author meetings. We are especially grateful to A. Larigauderie (IPBES executive secretary) and R. T. Watson (IPBES chair 2016–2019), for their strategic vision and continued advice, and to I. Baste (IPBES Bureau) and M. Stenseke, S. Demissew, and L. Dziba (MEP co-chairs) for their continued advice. We also acknowledge the contributions of D. Cooper, M. Guèze (GA Technical Support Unit); Y. O. Estrada (data visualization); and R. González, S. Hill, C. Hilton-Taylor, and M. Rivers (data and discussions for this paper). Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work; all authors involved in IPBES assessments and deliverables are involved on a voluntary basis. The IPBES global assessment was made possible thanks to many generous contributions, including nonearmarked contributions to the IPBES trust fund from governments (Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Estonia, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States); earmarked contributions to the IPBES trust fund toward the global assessment [Germany, Canada, France (Agence Française pour la Biodiversité), Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States]; and in-kind contributions targeted at the global assessment. All donors are listed on the IPBES web site: Author contributions: All authors volunteered and contributed their time in producing this publication and components of the underlying assessment report (5, 8, 51, 69, 83, 95, 106, 114) and its summary for policymakers (1). We are grateful to the following lead authors, fellows, and chapter scientists of the IPBES Global Assessment: C. Adams, A. P. D. Aguiar, D. Armenteras, Y. Aumeeruddy-Thomas, X. Bai, L. Balint, Z. Basher, T. Bekele Gode, E. Bennett, Y. A. Boafo, A. K. Boedhihartono, P. Brancalion, E. Bukvareva, I. Chan, N. Chettri, W. L. Cheung, B. Czúcz, F. DeClerck, E. Dulloo, A. Fernandez-Llamazares, B. Gabrielyan, L. Galetto, K. Galvin, E. García Frapolli, A. P. Gautam, L. R. Gerber, A. Geschke, J. Gutt, S. Hashimoto, A. Heinimann, A. Hendry, G. C. Hernández Pedraza, T. Hickler, A. I. Horcea-Milcu, S. A. Hussain, M. Islar, U. Jacob, W. Jetz, J. Jetzkowitz, P. Jaureguiberry, M. S. Karim, E. Kelemen, E. Keskin, P. Kindlmann, M. Kok, M. Kolb, Z. Krenova, R. Krug, P. Leadley, M. Lim, J. Liu, G. Lui, A. J. Lynch, M. Mastrangelo, P. McElwee, L. Merino, P. A. Minang, A. Mohamed, A. Mohammed, I. B. Mphangwe Kosamu, E. Mungatana, R. Muradian, M. Murray-Hudson, T. H. Mwampamba, N. Nagabhatla, A. Niamir, N. Nkongolo, P. O’Farrell, T. Oberdorff, P. Osano, B. Öztürk, H. Palang, M. G. Palomo, I. Palomo, M. Panahi, U. Pascual, R. Pichs Madruga, P. Pliscoff, V. Reyes-García, C. Rondinini, G. M. Rusch, O. Saito, R. Salimov, J. A. Samakov, J. Sathyapalan, T. Satterfield, A. K. Saysel, E. R. Selig, O. Selomane, R. Seppelt, L. Shannon, A. U. B. Shrestha, A. Sidorovich, A. Simcock, G. S. Singh, B., J. Spangenberg, B. Strassburg, E. Strombom, D. Tarkhnishvili, N. Titeux, E. Turnhout, M. Verma, A. Viña, M. Wiemers, M. J. Williams H. Xu, D. Xue, T. Yue, and D. Zaleski. Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests. Data and materials availability: All data are available in the manuscript or the supplementary materials.



Consejo Nacional de investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (IMBIV), Córdoba, Argentina.
Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales,Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Casilla de Correo 495, 5000, Córdoba, Argentina.
Department of Community Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Halle, Germany.
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research–iDiv, Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA.
Hien T. Ngo
Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Secretariat, United Nations Campus, Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1, D-53113 Bonn, Germany.
Department of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago.
Almut Arneth
Atmospheric Environmental Research, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, CP 58190, Morelia, Michoacán, México.
Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, 325 Learning and Environmental Sciences, 1954 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.
BirdLife International, David Attenborough Building, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK.
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Instituto de Investigaciones en Recursos Naturales, Agroecología y Desarrollo Rural, Universidad Nacional de Río Negro, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Mitre 630, CP 8400, San Carlos de Bariloche, Río Negro, Argentina.
Center for Environmental Remote Sensing, Chiba University, 1-33,Yayoi-cho, Inage-ku, Chiba, 263-852, Japan.
Center for Global Environmental Research, National Institute for Environmental Studies, 16-2, Onogawa, Tsukuba, 305-0053, Japan.
Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, 115 Manly Miles Building, East Lansing, MI 48823, USA.
United Nations University (UNU)–Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, Tokyo, Japan.
UNU–International Institute for Global Health, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Global Change Biology Group, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, P/Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa.
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)–Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Departamento de Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela.
Zsolt Molnár
Centre for Ecological Research Institute of Ecology and Botany, Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, H-2163 Vácrátót, Hungary.
Coastal Oceans Research and Development–Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa, Mombasa, Kenya.
Global Climate Institute, The University of Queensland, QLD 4072, Australia.
Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 1994 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, 1994 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.
Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK.
Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment, Imperial College London, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK.
Department of Law, Faculty of Business and Law, University of the West of England, Bristol, Bristol, UK.
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden.
Department of Conservation Ecology, Stellenbosch University, Matieland, 7602, South Africa.
Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, USA.
Marine Biodiversity, Exploitation and Conservation (MARBEC) Research Unit, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France.
Department of Biological Sciences, Marine Research Institute, University of Cape Town, 7701 Rondebosch, South Africa.
Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers
Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA.
Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Katherine J. Willis
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, TW9 3AE, UK.
Long-Term Ecology Laboratory, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3SZ, UK.
Center for International Studies University of the Philippines, Diliman, Philippines.


Corresponding author. Email: [email protected]

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