‘Exploding’ consumption behind shock 60 per cent decline in wildlife in 40 years
Earth’s wildlife population has declined by 60 per cent in just 40 years, a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature revealed.
The “exploding human consumption” of energy, land and water are forcing the “unprecedented” planetary change, the report said. While climate change was also cited as a factor, the overexploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion were most responsible. About three quarters of all land was found to now be significantly affected by humanity.
The report said the current biodiversity loss was so extreme it resembled only that seen during mass extinctions.
The WWF called for a dramatic move beyond a complacent, “business as usual” viewpoint or the decline would continue. It urged a new, global agreement between governments, businesses, research and civil society to seize the opportunity and ramp up momentum.
The report said only recently had businesses and governments started to realise how reliant all economic activity was on the natural environment. It warned of severe macroeconomic repercussions unless policies were implemented.
Fresh water, for example, was increasingly threatened by habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction, invasive species, overfishing, pollution, disease and climate change. Animal populations living in water have declined by 83 per cent.
Unless humanity collectively pulled together the situation would only worsen, to the detriment of humanity, the director general of the conservation organisation said.
“Few people have had the chance to find themselves on the cusp of a truly historic
transformation. Our planet is at a crossroads and we have the opportunity to decide the path ahead,” Marco Lambertini wrote in WWF’s Living Planet Index.
“There is no excuse for inaction. We can no longer ignore the warning signs; doing so would be at our own peril. What we need now is the will to act – and act quickly.”
The index tracks the state of the planet’s biodiversity by measuring the population density of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Areas worst affected in the index, which tracked about 16,000 species between 1970 and 2014, were South and Central America, which showed an 89 per cent loss.
“While this dependence on nature is self-evident to many, important decisions made in boardrooms, finance ministries and presidential offices rarely reflect this,” said Tony Juniper, WWF executive director for advocacy and campaigns.
The research showed how reliant health, well-being, food supply, wealth and security were on fauna.
“It is economic development and the growth of the world’s middle classes, not population rise per se, that is dramatically influencing the rate of change of Earth’s life-support system,” said Owen Gaffney, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
“These exponential health, knowledge and standard-of-living improvements ... have come at a huge cost to the stability of the natural systems that sustain us.”
Despite these damning findings, the report stressed there was still hope. Sustainable development goals, the Paris Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity showed the world is attempting to change direction.
The World Wide Fund for Nature says polluted rivers are a major cause of the large drop in freshwater species populations