Conservation organisation calls for new global deal for nature and people to halt wildlife decline and tackle deforestation, climate change and plastic pollution
Plummeting numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish around the world are an urgent sign that nature needs life support, WWF warned today as the conservation organisation’s flagship Living Planet Report 2018 shows population sizes of wildlife fell an average of 60 percent globally since 1970.
Current efforts to protect nature are failing, WWF warns, because they are not ambitious enough to match the scale of the threat the planet is facing. The organisation is calling for a new global deal for nature and people, backed by concrete commitments from countries and businesses to tackle wildlife loss, climate change and development in an integrated way.
The Living Planet Report 2018, involving over 50 experts, paints a dire picture of the state of our planet and clearly illustrates that humans are living beyond the planet’s means and wiping out life on earth in the process.
It highlights how overuse of natural resources on land and in the oceans, and agricultural activity, driven by human consumption, are the dominant cause of current wildlife declines and the destruction of forests, oceans and landscapes. It also identifies climate change and pollution, including plastic, as significant and growing threats. It reveals:
- Only a quarter of the planet’s land is free from human impact. By 2050, this is projected to fall to just a tenth;
- The percentage of the world’s seabirds estimated to have plastic in their stomach has increased from 5 percent in 1960 to 90 percent today;
- Tropical areas have seen the steepest declines, with an 89 percent fall in monitored populations of Latin America and Caribbean- home to species such as the jaguar and giant anteater – since 1970;
- Globally, freshwater species populations, such as amphibians, have declined 83 percent on average over the same period;
- The world has already lost about half of its shallow water corals in just 30 years;
- In April 2018, levels of climate warming carbon dioxide reached the highest level in at least 800,000 years.
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF said:
“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it. Our wanton destruction of nature, coupled with the brutal chaos of climate change, is the biggest threat to humanity. The collapse of global wildlife populations is a warning sign that nature is dying. But instead of putting the world on life support, we’re using a sticking plaster. If we want a world with orangutans and puffins, clean air and enough food for everyone, we need urgent action from our leaders and a new global deal for nature and people that kick starts a global programme of recovery.”
The Living Planet Index, provided by ZSL (Zoological Society of London), tracks trends in global wildlife abundance. It indicates that monitored populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined, on average, by 60 per cent between 1970 and 2014, the most recent year with available data.
Prof. Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL (Zoological Society of London) said:
“From rivers and rainforests, to mangroves and mountainsides, across the planet our work shows that wildlife abundance has declined dramatically since 1970. 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. We are going to need your help to achieve it.”
The Living Planet Report 2018 argues that the disappearance of our wildlife and accompanying destruction of nature is already having profound impacts on human society.
Land degradation already impacts 75 percent of environments on land, impacting the welfare of three billion people by decreasing food production. Globally, nature provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year to the global economy, while also helping ensure the supply of fresh air, clean water, food, energy, medicines and other products and materials.
The report argues that protecting wildlife and reversing the decline of nature requires urgent global action and points to 2020 as a crucial year for securing international agreements for a new global deal for nature and people, through a commitment by heads of state at the 75th United Nations General Assembly. That year, leaders are also expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and, crucially, negotiate new 10 year targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Chapter 4 of the report is inspired by a paper titled ‘Aiming higher to bend the curve of biodiversity loss’ which suggests a roadmap for the targets, indicators and metrics the 196 member states of the CBD could consider to deliver an urgent, ambitious and effective global agreement for nature, as the world did for climate in Paris, when they meet at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the CBD in Egypt in November 2018.
Ben Fogle, TV Presenter, Explorer and WWF-UK Ambassador said:
“I don’t want my children growing up to learn about tigers, rhinos and even hedgehogs through history books and museums. I want them to see our world’s diverse and wonderful wildlife with their own eyes. But our inaction is wiping out species across the globe and it terrifies me that unless we make committed and immediate change to the way we live, there will be no other option for them. We are the only generation that can do this.”
Examples of wildlife populations in decline:
The grey partridge has declined by 85 percent between 1970 and 2004, thought to be due to the effects of agricultural intensification.
The African grey parrot population in south-west Ghana decreased by 98 percent between 1992 and 2014 due to exploitation, habitat loss and degradation.
In the Indo-Pacific the whale shark population is estimated to have reduced by 63 percent over the last 75 years, and for the Atlantic population a reduction of more than 30% is inferred. Combining data from both regions, it is likely that the global Whale Shark population has declined by over 50 percent over the last 75 years.
African elephant populations in Tanzania have declined by 60 percent between 2009 and 2014, primarily due to poaching.
The populations of black and white rhinos have declined by an average of 63 percent between 1980 and 2006. The illegal wildlife trade is by far the biggest threat currently facing both populations due to the demand for their horns; on average, almost three rhinos are poached a day in South Africa. The number of animals poached for their horns rose from 13 in 2007 to 1,028 in 2017.
Polar bear numbers are projected to decline by 30 percent by 2050. The single greatest threat they face is climate change. As sea ice melts, it reduces their ability to hunt seals, find mates and access remote denning sites.
It’s estimated that over 100,000 Bornean orangutans were lost between 1999 and 2015, largely due to forest loss and fragmentation (caused by timber production and palm oil production) and illegal hunting (for meat and the pet trade).
The puffin population size in Europe is projected to decrease by 50-79 percent during 2000-2065. Europe holds over 90 percent of the global population, so the projected declines in Europe are globally significant.
White-rumped vulture populations have seen a 99 percent decline between 2000 and 2007, with mortality plummeting due to the widespread use of the anti-inflammatory cattle drug diclofenac. The drug causes kidney failure in birds that eat the carcasses of recently-treated cattle. This species is critically endangered.
Gharials are limited to Nepal and India, and less than 200 breeding adults survive in the wild, mainly due to rampant fishing, changes in river flow and increase in poaching. Gharial populations declined from an estimated 436 adult gharials in 1997 to 182 in 2006. This species is critically endangered.
A rapid decline has been observed in populations of the wandering albatross, driven largely by incidental catch in long line fisheries. One population, from Bird Island, South Georgia, declined by 50 percent between 1972 and 2010 according to data from the British Antarctic Survey long term monitoring programme.