WWF Report: Humans wipe out 60% of animal populations over 40 years

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October 31st, 2018

A new WWF report has concluded that populations of vertebrate species – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – have declined by an average of 60 per cent since 1970.

The strongly worded report claims that humanity has thus far “failed the natural world” with declines in freshwater ecosystems especially pronounced.

The findings of the 2018 Living Planet Report are based on the ‘Living Planet Index’ that tracked the trends of no less than 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species over the past 40 years.

These findings come a year after a landmark study in a PNAS characterized biodiversity loss over the preceding decades as human-caused “biological annihilation” and declared that Earth’s sixth ever mass extinction event is well underway.

The issue at the crux of biodiversity loss, the report says, is humanity’s “runaway consumption”, with agricultural intensification, deforestation of land for agriculture and overexploitation of certain species acting as key threats.

The status of Ireland’s native wildlife is no less concerning than the overall picture portrayed in the WWF report.

A report published in 2013 by the National Parks and Wildlife Service on the conservation status of EU-protected Irish habitats and species, revealed that 91 per cent of habitats and 32 per cent of species were in ‘inadequate’ or ‘bad’ condition.

The Irish Wildlife Trust has pointed to a lack of political will to address biodiversity loss in Ireland, while Liam Lysaght of the National Biodiversity Data Centre called for a high-level Officer for Nature Conservation to be appointed to the Government.

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) Photo: Mike Pennington

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) Photo: Mike Pennington

Essential for human survival

The Living Planet Report emphasizes that biodiversity is “not just ‘nice to have’” but also essential for human survival and well-being.

Nature provides humanity with countless ecosystem services: pollination of food crops, provision of medicinal compounds, water purification, regulation of air quality, soil stabilisation, moderation of extreme weather events and climate change prevention, among others.

According to the report, these ecosystem services are worth upwards of $125 trillion to humanity annually, but nature provides these services free of charge.

The report concludes that, in order to reverse current trends in biodiversity loss, society needs to “aim higher”. At present, the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity is the key multilateral treaty on biodiversity conservation.

Every country in the world is a party to the Convention, and every UN Member State besides the USA has ratified the agreement.

In 2020, that treaty will be reviewed by its global parties.  According to the WWF, this provides world leaders with an opportunity to draft a more ambitious agreement with higher reaching targets.

The report points out that while the window of opportunity for action is closing, there is still time for governments to implement more ambitious policy on biodiversity conservation.

Professor Ken Norris of the Zoological Society of London, who’s contributed to the report, said that while the statistics in the report are daunting, “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,” he said.

By Lorraine Guerin

Lorraine is a freelance writer on agroecology, sustainable forestry and the impact of policy on the environment, specialising in agri-environmental policy in the Irish context.

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