WWF Audit: Half Of The Earth’s Animals Have Disappeared Since The 1970s

Getty/John Moore

The yearly report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has found that thousands of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined in numbers since 1970

Freshwater species are the worst-hit with species diversity declining by a massive 76%.

The worst areas of decline included regions in South America and Asia-Pacific but there is evidence that protective measures are working in land-based regions, with reduced species-declines observed in protected areas.

Marco Lambertini, WWF International Director General, says this latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted.

The Living Planet Index, which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52% since 1970.

“Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half,” he says.

“These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home.

“We ignore their decline at our peril.”

At a glance:

  • The global Living Planet Index (LPI) shows an overall decline of 52% between 1970 and 2010. Due to changes in methodology to better reflect the relative sizes of species groups across biomes, this percentage has decreased considerably in comparison with previous publications.
  • Falling by 76%, populations of freshwater species declined more rapidly than marine (39 per cent) and terrestrial (39 per cent) populations.
  • The most dramatic regional LPI decrease occurred in South America, followed closely by the Asia-Pacific region.
  • In land-based protected areas, the LPI declined by 18 per cent, less than half the rate of decline of the overall terrestrial LPI. Our demands on nature are unsustainable and increasing
  • We need 1.5 Earths to meet the demands we currently make on nature. This means we are eating into our natural capital, making it more difficult to sustain the needs of future generations.
  • The carbon Footprint accounts for over half of the total Ecological Footprint, and is the largest single component for approximately half of the countries tracked.
  • Agriculture accounts for 92% of the global water footprint. Humanity’s growing water needs and climate change are exacerbating challenges of water scarcity.
  • The dual effect of a growing human population and high per capita Footprint will multiply the pressure we place on our ecological resources.
  • The Ecological Footprint per capita of high-income countries remains about five times more than that of low-income countries.
  • By importing resources, high-income countries in particular, may effectively be outsourcing biodiversity loss. While high- income countries appear to show an increase (10%) in biodiversity, middle-income countries show declines (18%), and low-income countries show dramatic and marked declines (58%).
  • Countries with a high level of human development tend to have higher Ecological Footprints. The challenge is for countries to increase their human development while keeping their Footprint down to globally sustainable levels.

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