Global populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish dropped 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, according to a new report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The 2014 Living Planet Report says this biodiversity loss is occuring disproportionately in low-income countries — and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries.
The amount of carbon in our atmosphere has risen to levels not seen in more than a million years, triggering climate change that is already destabilizing ecosystems. High concentrations of reactive nitrogen are degrading lands, rivers and oceans. Stress on already scarce water supplies is increasing. And more than 60 percent of the essential “services” provided by nature, from forests to seas, are in decline.
"We're gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “But we already have the knowledge and tools to avoid the worst predictions. We all live on a finite planet and its time we started acting within those limits.”
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The report measures trends in three major areas; populations of more than ten thousand vertebrate species, human ecological footprint and existing biocapacity — the amount of natural resources for producing food, freshwater and sequestering carbon.
The report says that the majority of high-income countries are increasingly consuming more per person than the planet can accommodate; maintaining per capita ecological footprints greater than the amount of biocapacity available per person. People in middle- and low-income countries have seen little increase in their per capita footprints over the same time period.
While high-income countries show a 10 percent increase in biodiversity, the rest of the world is seeing dramatic declines. Middle-income countries show 18 percent declines, and low-income countries show 58 percent declines. Latin America shows the biggest decline in biodiversity, with species populations falling by 83 percent.
The report underscores that the declining trends are not inevitable. To achieve globally sustainable development, each country’s per capita ecological footprint must be less than the per capita biocapacity available on the planet, while maintaining a decent standard of living.
To avoid further loss of biodiversity, WWF recommends the following actions:
- Accelerate shift to smarter food and energy production
- Reduce ecological footprint through responsible consumption at the personal, corporate and government levels
- Value natural capital as a cornerstone of policy and development decisions
Much of this loss of biodiversity can be attributed to rampant worldwide deforestation. Last week at the UN Climate Summit, a pivotal REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) program was launched to protect forests in the Congo Basin and promote the inherent value of natural standing forests around the world. The initiative involves the protection of roughly 10 percent of DRC’s total forestry area, taking advantage of the UN’s REDD+ mechanism for protection of nearly nine million hectares of primary tropical rainforest, within a 12-million landscape. This area has more than 1.8 million inhabitants, as well as hosting a range of endangered species including the forest elephant and the bonobo.
In July, WWF warned that the long-term sustainability of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna fishery can only be guaranteed by following the science and halving catch limits. This is because measures of Pacific Bluefin tuna breeding stock have declined from their unfished levels by more than 96 percent, and 90 percent of the fished species are young fish that have not yet reproduced.