The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2005) categorised global changes affecting biodiversity into the ‘big five’: land use change, climate change, invasions, exploitation, and pollution. The latest Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report, approved in April 2019 at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary in Paris, identifies the largest relative global impacts in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.
Much of biodiversity and global change is driven, however, by feedback mechanisms that take place at spatial and temporal scales that are smaller than those currently incorporated in global models. It is our underlying presumption that treating different phenomena, such as the ‘big five’, in isolation is unlikely to provide a coherent understanding of global change and biodiversity. In contrast to previous research, we suggest establishing an approach for predicting the future state of the environment that is based on three relevant mechanisms of change, namely interactions, feedbacks, and scaling. These presumptions result in the following core hypothesis for the URPP GCB, which guides all projects incorporated into it:
Drivers affecting global change and biodiversity vary in their importance, magnitude and size among ecosystems and regions. Improved capability to predict the consequences of changes in drivers will aid improved prediction of the state of the environment, by using a latitudinal gradient approach with focus on interactions, feedbacks, and scale.