One million species at 'imminent' risk of extinction due to humans - UN report

One million animal and plant species are at imminent risk of extinction due to humankind's relentless pursuit of economic growth, scientists said on Monday in a landmark report on the devastating impact of modern civilization on the natural world.

"Biodiversity is important to human wellbeing and we humans are destroying it," said Robert Watson, who chaired the study produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which groups 130 countries, including the United States, Russia and China.

The global assessment of biodiversity revealed we're ravaging the very ecosystems that keep us alive - including habitat loss from farming, fishing, poaching and the burning of fossil fuels.

Director of the NZ's Biological Heritage National Science Challenge Andrea Byrom said the study was "really damning".

"There's a real recognition about the link between nature and human survival and we should pay attention to that," she said.

The study says that while the Earth has long suffered from human impact, in the past fifty years the scratches have become deep scars.

The productivity of a fifth of the world's soil has been compromised.

Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980.

And species are disappearing - from corals and crustaceans to trees, birds, and insects.

The report says that by destroying the diversity of life, we're putting ourselves on a path to self-destruction.

"It's no longer about saving biodiversity because it's cute, it's about saving biodiversity because we're part of it," Conservation biologist at Auckland University, Associate Professor James Russell, said.

"We'll have losses within our generation that will affect us, but worse still, future generations are going to be seriously impacted by the legacy we leave for them."

The report says the apocalyptic scenario can be avoided, by making "transformative change" technologically, economically and socially.

It says this change must start now at every level, from local to global.

An example of local action is the Kaipatiki Project, which has been working to restore the ecology of 70 hectares of bushland in urban Auckland - they're recently discovered freshwater mussels and endemic fish in their stream.

Restoration activator Neil Henderson says it's about focussing on making a little difference, rather than trying to solve all the problems at once.

"If you look at it as 'oh my god I can't do anything', you just go back to the same old, same old, whereas the reality is each and every day after day, there are little things we can do."

He says these things include growing vegetables, making compost and trapping pests, as well as learning about the correct trees to plant to restore ecology.

"If everybody was just to start looking a little bit more around them and getting a bit more back to nature we might not be facing such huge problems."