Humans driving major decline of global wildlife populations, new study finds
(CN) – A sobering new report shows the impact “exploding human consumption” has on animals, finding that wildlife populations have declined globally by 60 percent in the past four decades.
The World Wildlife Fund published its biennial Living Planet Report, analyzing more than 16,000 wildlife populations worldwide, including mammals, birds and fish. And the news isn’t good.
Human activity on wildlife habitats across the globe has devastated animals. Between 1970 and 2014, populations have declined by an average of 60 percent.
The report lays out an agenda for what is needed to reverse course on the population declines, including calls for carbon-neutral systems and environmentally sound and sustainable food production.
The report “reminds us we need to change course,” WWF-US President Carter Roberts said in a statement. “It’s time to balance our consumption with the needs of nature, and to protect the only planet that is our home.”
“The statistics are scary, but all hope is not lost,” Professor Ken Norris of the Zoological Society of London added. “We have an opportunity to design a new path forward that allows us to co-exist sustainably with the wildlife we depend upon.”
The study used several metrics, including one called the Living Planet Index, to look at trends in wildlife populations. The researchers looked at more than 4,000 vertebrate species worldwide.
Wildlife declines are more pronounced in certain areas. In Central and South America, populations declined overall by 89 percent, while in South Asia and Oceania, populations declined by 64 percent.
Human activity was most directly linked to plummeting wildlife populations. These include habitat loss from development, agriculture, and overfishing. Only one-quarter of the land on Earth is substantially free from human activity – and that percentage is expected to decline.
Climate change is a factor, the report noted, but not the most significant one.
“Exploding human consumption is the driving force behind the unprecedented planetary change we are witnessing, through the increased demand for energy, land and water,” the report says.
Despite the sobering news, the 75-page report takes an optimistic tone, encouraging world leaders and citizens to create “a new global deal for nature and people,” similar to the Paris Climate Agreement.
“We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it,” the report says. “We may be the last that can take action to reverse this trend.”
The benefits provided by wildlife and nature are not just things that are “nice to have,” the report’s authors stress. Rather, they provide humans with medicine, nutrition and other necessities worth $125 trillion a year, according to one estimate.
The authors are setting their sights on 2020, when leaders are expected to review progress made in international treaties like the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
“The future of millions of species on Earth seems not to have captured the imagination or attention of the world’s leaders enough to catalyze the change necessary,” the report says.
“We need to radically escalate the political relevance of nature and galvanize a cohesive movement across state and non-state actors to drive change, to ensure that public and private decision-makers understand that business as usual is not an option,” it adds.