WWF-ZSL Living Planet Report – Building a nature-friendly society
Spend JUST a few moments thinking about the following:
- The number of wild animals in the world has fallen by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. This is equivalent to losing all the inhabitants of Europe, North and South America, Oceania and China.
- Every year we lose about 10 million hectares of forest.
- Mangroves continue to be deforested by aquaculture, agriculture and coastal development at a rate of 0.13% per year.
- Freshwater species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have declined by an average of 83% since 1970.
- The six main threats to wildlife come from agriculture, hunting, logging, pollution, invasive species and climate change.
This staggering set of data comes from this report, published in October this year by WWF in conjunction with the ZSL (Zoological Society of London). This is a most readable and informative report that highlights that our destruction of wildlife is undermining our fight against climate change. Thoughtfully and eloquently written by more than 70 world leaders from the fields of academia, NGOs and ecology, it includes snapshots of ordinary people trying to make a difference in the environments and difficulties in which they find themselves.
This report is based on data collected from 32,000 populations of 5,230 species across our planet and released in time for the December meeting at the United Nations Montreal Summit on a new global biodiversity framework. There, new targets must be set to eliminate a 50% decline in nature over the next decade because none of the targets set for 2020 have been met.
The red lights are flashing! In this week’s column, I will attempt a summary of the 102-page report based on the premise that we all need to restore health to the natural world.
We are already experiencing the impacts of global nature decline and climate change. The latter is manifested worldwide in the displacement and death of human beings due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events, increased food security, soil depletion, lack of access to fresh water and increased spread of zoonotic diseases.
Unfortunately, these disproportionately affect the most marginalized and poorest people in our world. Attempting to address the complexity and diversity of the challenges we face, this report documents specific scenarios drawn from the Amazon, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Kenya and Zambia.
The global emergency
Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. Over the past 50 years, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation have resulted from the increasing demand for energy, food and materials caused by rapid economic growth, increasing human population and international trade. Today, more than a million plants and animals are threatened with extinction and we have already lost some 2.5% of species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Our species are now losing their climate-determined habitats.
Since the Industrial Revolution (circa 1787), our planet has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius. A rise in average global temperature is very likely to become the main cause of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in the coming decades. Already, 50% of warm water corals have disappeared and a global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius will see a loss of between 70 and 90%.
We must conserve and restore biodiversity and limit human-induced climate change to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), if everyone, regardless of personal income, is to benefit.
Positive climate feedback has seen an increase in forest fires, desiccation of trees due to drought, insect outbreaks, drying of peatlands and thawing of tundra permafrost, all releasing more carbon dioxide when dead plant matter is burned or decomposes. These traditional carbon sinks have now become new carbon releasers. Forests store more carbon than all the exploitable oil, gas and coal in the world, and between 2001 and 2019 forests absorbed 18% of all human carbon emissions.
Trees actually cool our planet by about 0.5 degrees Celsius and, through evapotranspiration, create precipitation providing water for food growth. Forest fragmentation promotes the decline of wildlife habitats and the downward spiral of ecological dysfunction, but this can be reversed by the creation of ecological corridors (as planned for the connection between Mount Kinabalu and the Crocker Range National Parks in Sabah).
Speed and magnitude of change
A global map shows threat hotspots for all amphibians, birds and terrestrial mammals and the threats they face. This is based on data from the IUCN Red List, and it appears that agriculture is the predominant threat to amphibians and hunting and trapping are more likely to threaten birds and mammals. Southeast Asia is the region where species are likely to face threats at a significantly high level with the dry forests of western Madagascar, the Amazon basin, the northern Andes, the Himalayas and the tropical rainforests of West Africa. Hotspots in Europe are largely due to pollution.
The report continues with specific reference to the disappearance of sharks and rays from our oceans, with larger species exhibiting faster population declines due to their higher value for meat and fin volume. Because they reach sexual maturity late in life, they have less ability to replace their lost numbers due to fishing pressures. Today, we see that the global abundance of 18 of 31 oceanic shark and ray species has declined by 71% over the past 50 years.
Building a nature-friendly society
The focus of this chapter highlights the UN General Assembly’s recognition that “everyone, everywhere has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and, for those in power, to realize that it is not an option but an obligation”. It was the section titled “Humanity’s Ecological Footprint Exceeds Earth’s Biocapacity” that caught my eye. Let me explain.
Most people live within their means by balancing expenses against income to create a state of dynamic equilibrium where output equals input. The Earth’s biocapacity is the ability of its ecosystems to regenerate. However, people have high demands on this and biocapacity and demand can be measured in terms of ecological footprints. It has been revealed that we overexploit our planet by at least 75%, which is equivalent to living on 1.75 Earths!
Global consumption figures, measured in terms of the ecological footprint per person, show that the biocapacity of our planet amounts to 1.6 hectares per person. If, for example, a country’s Ecological Footprint is 6.4 global hectares per person, its occupants’ demands on nature for food, fiber, urban areas, and carbon removal are four times higher than what is available on our planet per person!
It is possible to reverse the decline of nature by diversifying food production, livelihoods, robust markets and trade, and diversifying our diets. Last year, nearly 193 million people in 53 countries experienced acute crisis-level food shortages. Nearly 3.1 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, resulting in children suffering from stunting or wasting as global obesity rates continue to decline. ‘increase. It seems that a transformative change is long overdue to put people and nature at the heart of society.
A very moving article is included in this report by Dr Eliud Kipchoge (two-time Olympic champion and marathon world record holder) who wisely stated: “We are the generation that inherited the world…and our great contribution will be anchored in durability. It’s a race against time to save what’s left of our home. Every minute counts as a marathon.
Thanks to his own foundation, the government and the help of WWF-Kenya, 225 hectares of forest land have been restored in just two years. At least another 775 hectares are to be restored by training local farmers in sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry as part of the Greening Kaptagat landscape restoration program. This cannot be achieved without the help of indigenous peoples and faith in their efforts.
We can only attempt to recover what we have lost, through mismanagement and greed, with the help of the government. As the world unites to save humanity by investing in Covid-19 vaccines, we face a bigger problem in the form of climate change. Unfortunately, this cannot be treated with two shots and booster doses. This project has a lifespan of 30 years from now and we can all learn from past mistakes and never repeat them. It’s an emergency, now or never!
* I fully acknowledge the information I have taken from the WWF-ZSL Living Planet Report 2022 and suggest readers refer to that report. Only then will you appreciate its breadth and depth.