WWF: Earth's wildlife plummeted 60 percent over 40 years

Society's enormous consumption, linked to economic boom, to blame says devastating report

In this picture taken on October 22, 2018 an Indian man sits on the bank of the polluted Yamuna river in New Delhi.   / AFP / Noemi Cassanelli

Earth’s wildlife population has declined an “astonishing” 60 per cent in just 40 years, a report by the Word Wide Fund (WWF) has warned.

The “exploding human consumption” of energy, land and water are forcing the “unprecedented” planetary change underway, said WWF. While climate change was also cited as an important factor, the overexploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion were most responsible.  Roughly 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.

WWF called for a dramatic move beyond a complacent, ‘business as usual’ viewpoint or the decline would continue unabated. It urged for a new, global agreement between governments, businesses, research and civil society to seize the opportunity and ramp up momentum.

The report said that only recently businesses and governments were beginning to realise how reliant all economic activity was on the natural environment. This was important WWF said, warning of severe macroeconomic repercussions unless new policies were implemented.

Freshwater, for example, was being increasingly threatened by habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction, invasive species, overfishing, pollution disease and climate change. Animals residing in water as a whole were found to have declined in number by 83 per cent.

Unless humanity collectively pulled together now the situation would only worsen – to the detriment of humanity, the director general of the leading 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 (LPI).

“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,” he added.

The LPI follows the state of the planet’s biodiversity by measuring the population density of fish, birds, mammal, amphibians and reptiles.

Worst affected in the index, that tracked some 16,000 species between 1970 and 2014, was 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, Executive Director for Advocacy and Campaigns.

The research showed how reliant aspects such as health, wellbeing, 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.

This change over the last 50 years, described as the ‘Great Acceleration,’ had had many positives – but also negatives Mr Gaffney wrote.

“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,” he added.

The cumulative effects of a surge in the urban population, telecommunications, foreign direct investment and international tourism were just some of the factors.


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Even the frequent threat of invasive species was found to be interconnected to the economic boom through trade related activities such as shipping. Pollution and disturbance, for example through agricultural pollution, dams, fires and mining, were additional sources of pressure.

Despite these damning findings, the report stressed there was still hope. The Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity were evidence the world was trying to change the path for the natural world.

“This is when the world should embrace a new global deal for nature and people, as we did for climate in Paris, and truly demonstrate the path we are choosing for people and the planet,” said Mr Lambertini, the director general.