Urgent action needed to protect wildlife as global populations halve in 40 years

Global wildlife populations have halved in just 40 years, as recorded by WWF's Living Planet Report 2014 and measured by the Living Planet Index.  Wildlife's continued decline highlights the urgent need for sustainable solutions to humanity’s increasing demand on our natural resources, according to the report released today.

Populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.  Freshwater species populations have suffered a 76% decline, an average loss almost double that of land and marine species.

The report shows that the biggest recorded threat to biodiversity comes from the combined impacts of habitat loss and degradation, driven by unsustainable human consumption. The report notes that the impacts of climate change are becoming of increasing concern.

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK said, “The scale of the destruction highlighted in this report should be a wake-up call for us all.  But next year – when countries of the world are due to come together to agree on a new global climate agreement, as well as a set of sustainable development goals – presents us with a unique opportunity to reverse the trends we see in the Living Planet Report. We all – politicians, businesses and people – have an interest, and a responsibility, to act to ensure we protect what we all value: a healthy future for both people and nature.”

Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London said: “The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the very ecosystems that are essential to our existence is alarming. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live. Although the report shows the situation is critical, there is still hope. Protecting nature needs focused conservation action, political will and support from businesses.”

The Living Planet Report 2014 is the tenth edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication. The report uses the Living Planet Index – a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London which tracks over 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010. The index reveals a continued decline in these populations and this global trend is not slowing down.

African Lionesses (Panthera leo) with their cubs aged 3-6 months walking along a track

The report also highlights that we are using more resources than our planet can continue to provide and if we continue to do so, we will create even greater problems for ourselves in years to come.

For example, we are cutting down trees more quickly than they can regrow, harvesting more fish than the oceans can restock, pumping water from our rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them, and emitting more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb. This cannot continue without profound harm to humans and to the natural world on which we depend.

The report, published days after the UN Climate Summit in New York, concurs with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that climate change is already impacting on the health of the planet.

WWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum, who attended the UN Climate Summit added: ‘Ambitious and focused negotiations over an international climate deal to be agreed in Paris next year are a clear opportunity to control, and hopefully reverse, the trends highlighted in the Living Planet Report. Concluding a global agreement that sets countries on course to build low carbon economies is essential, and our reliance on fossil fuels is currently the dominant factor in driving dangerous climate change.’

While recognising that the task ahead is difficult, the report points out that there is nothing inevitable about the continuing decline in the Living Planet Index or our overuse of the earth’s resources. 

Wildlife's continued decline highlights the need for sustainable solutions to reverse the trends highlighted in the report.  While biodiversity loss around the world is at critical levels, the Living Planet Report 2014 also provides solutions for a healthy planet. It calls for better ways of managing, using and sharing natural resources within the planet’s limitations – so as to ensure food, water and energy security for all.

In 2015, world leaders will agree two potentially critical global agreements: the post-2015 development framework - which will include Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by all countries by 2030; and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

While there are many hard facts about the state of our planet in the report, there are grounds for optimism. We have an opportunity to make decisions that allow all people to live a good life on a healthy planet, in harmony with nature. This opportunity, together with the many examples of how people are reversing the trends outlined in the report, give us hope for a better future.


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