What next?

Of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since AD 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both (often in combination with the introduction of invasive alien species7). Climate change will become an increasingly dominant problem in the biodiversity crisis3. But human development and population growth mean that the impacts of overexploitation and agricultural expansion will also increase.

The aim of the World Conservation Congress is to translate sustainable development and carbon neutrality agreements into action. We urge delegates to focus on proposing and funding actions that prioritize the biggest current threats to biodiversity.

Thankfully, there are effective tools and approaches to alleviate harm caused by overexploitation and agricultural activities8. These include the development and governance of sustainable harvest regimes; the enforcement of hunting regulations and no-take marine protected areas; the maintenance of international policy mechanisms; such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; and public education (for instance, on where ivory comes from) to reduce demand. Also powerful are the establishment of protected areas to safeguard key biodiversity areas9; the management of agricultural systems in ways that allow threatened species to persist within them; the regulation of pesticide and fertilizer use; the certification of agricultural sustainability; and the reduction of food waste, for example, using urban food-transfer programmes.

Crucially, ensuring that overexploitation and agricultural activities today do not compromise ecosystems tomorrow will help to ameliorate the challenges presented by impending climate change. Healthy ecosystems are better repositories for carbon. They are also more likely to provide the physical connectivity and genetic diversity needed to enable species to adapt to the large shifts in climate expected later this century10.

Conservationists, weary of tackling herculean, long-standing problems, could be forgiven for being drawn to newer ones. Nonetheless, we appeal to all concerned with the sustainability of life on Earth to take stock of the current balance of threats — and refocus their efforts on the enemies of old.