31.10.2018 |

Humanity has wiped out 60% of the planet’s wildlife since 1970, report

Wildlife is in steep decline (Photo: CC0)

The way we feed, fuel and finance our societies and economies is pushing nature and the services it provides to the brink, warns a new report. Humanity has wiped out 60% of the global populations of vertebrate species over the last 40 years, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018. This is undermining the health and well-being of people, species, societies and economies everywhere, says the report released on October 30. It consists of contributions from 59 authors from 26 different institutions and includes the latest findings measured by the Living Planet Index, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), tracking 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2014. “Science is showing us the harsh reality our forests, oceans and rivers are enduring at our hands. Inch by inch and species by species, shrinking wildlife numbers and wild places are an indicator of the tremendous impact and pressure we are exerting on the planet, undermining the very living fabric that sustains us all: nature and biodiversity,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International.

The Living Planet Index indicates that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined, on average, by 60% since 1970. Freshwater populations in particular, have seen an 83% decline since then. Species’ population declines are especially pronounced in the tropics, with South and Central America suffering the most dramatic decline at 89%. The biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are overexploitation and agriculture, both linked to continually increasing human consumption. “Indeed, 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,” says the report. Invasive species are another frequent threat, their spread relying heavily on trade-related activities such as shipping. According to the authors, “pollution and disturbance, for example through agricultural pollution, dams, fires and mining, are additional sources of pressure. Climate change is playing a growing role and is already beginning to have an effect at an ecosystem, species and even genetic level.” Over recent decades, human activity has also severely impacted the habitats and natural resources wildlife and humanity depend on such as oceans, forests, coral reefs, wetlands and mangroves. 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years while the earth is estimated to have lost about half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years.

The report also focuses on the importance and value of nature to people’s health and well-being and that of our societies and economies. Globally, nature provides services for humanity worth around US$125 trillion a year, while also helping ensure the supply of fresh air, clean water, food, energy, medicines and other products and materials. Pollinators alone are responsible for US$ 235-577 billion in crop production per year. However, a changing climate, intensive agricultural practices, invasive species and emerging diseases have impacted their abundance, diversity and health. “Nature has been silently sustaining and powering our societies and economies for centuries, and continues to do so today. In return, the world has continued to take nature and its services for granted, failing to act against the accelerating loss of nature. It is time we realized that a healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life,” said Lambertini. “We need to urgently rethink how we use and value nature - culturally, economically and on our political agendas,” he added.

WWF urges the global community to unite for a global deal for nature and people to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. The organization is calling on people, businesses and governments to mobilize and deliver on a comprehensive framework agreement for nature and people under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one that galvanizes public and private action to protect and restore global biodiversity and nature and bend the curve on the devastating trends depicted in the report. Prof. Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL, is still optimistic. “The statistics are scary, but all hope is not lost. We have an opportunity to design a new path forward that allows us to co-exist sustainably with the wildlife we depend upon. Our report sets out an ambitious agenda for change,” he stressed. (ab)

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