As global biodiversity declines, world’s food and energy systems hold solutions | WWF

As global biodiversity declines, world’s food and energy systems hold solutions

Posted on
01 November 2016

Latest findings show global wildlife populations could drop two-thirds by 2020

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 27 October 2016 – Global wildlife could plunge to a 67 per cent level of decline in just the fifty-year period ending this decade as a result of human activities, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016. The report shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth’s history and highlights the changes needed in the way society is fed and fuelled. 

According to the report, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data. This places the world on a trajectory of a potential two-thirds decline within a span of the half-century ending in 2020. 

“Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “This is not just about the wonderful species we all love; biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food and climate services that they provide us. We have the tools to fix this problem and we need to start using them now if we are serious about preserving a living planet for our own survival and prosperity.” 

Fortunately, 2020 is also a year of great promise. In that same year, commitments made under the Paris climate deal will kick in, and the first environmental actions under the globe’s new sustainable development plan are due. If implemented, these measures, along with meeting international biodiversity targets set for 2020, can help achieve the reforms needed in the world's food and energy systems to protect wildlife across the globe. 

Ida Tillisch, Director General of Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF, also added: “The Earth provides all that we need to live and thrive. While the planet has the ability to replenish resources, these resources are exhaustible. As highlighted in the Living Planet Report, there is a clear challenge for humanity to alter our course so that we operate within the environmental limits of our planet and maintain or restore the resilience of ecosystems. 
This won’t happen overnight and requires the active participation of the whole of society including consumers, businesses and government. Business as usual is no longer an option. Collectively, we need to drive the shift towards sustainable and resilient models of production and consumption.” 

Additional evidence of a man-made era 

The top threats to species identified in the report are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss, degradation and overexploitation of wildlife. 

The report’s findings provide additional evidence that the planet is entering completely unchartered territory in its history in which humanity is shaping changes on the Earth, including a possible sixth mass extinction. Researchers are already calling this period the Anthropocene. Understanding why we are moving into this new epoch enables us to identify solutions for restoring the ecosystems we depend upon. 

According to the report, food production to meet the complex demands of an expanding human population is leading the race in the destruction of habitats and overexploitation of wildlife. At present, agriculture occupies about one-third of the Earth’s total land area and accounts for almost 70 per cent pf water use.

Paola Ferreira, Conservation and Climate Director at Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF commented: “The Living Planet Report provides a fresh look at risks and resilience in a new era, the Anthropocene, the ‘Human Age’. As the Living Planet illustrates, human activities are reshaping our planet in profound ways. However, while we are part of the problem, we can also be part of the solution. Understanding the drivers and root causes behind biodiversity and ecosystem depletion is an important part of finding robust and long-lasting solutions. Our long-term success will depend on our ability to cooperate across all sectors of society and our commitment to put our collective long-term sustainability before our short-term wants.” 

The living planet report 2016 outlines solutions to reform the way we produce and consume food to help ensure that the world is well-fed in a sustainable way. The report also focuses on the fundamental changes required in the global energy and finance systems to meet the sustainability needs of future generations. 

Pushing the planet to its limits 

Living Planet Report 2016 draws on leading research about the scale and impact of human activity on our planet. One such model, provided by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, demonstrates that humanity has surpassed four out of nine Planetary Boundaries – safe thresholds for critical Earth system processes that maintain life on the planet. In a special foreword in the report, Planetary Boundaries lead researcher Johan Rockström underlines the need for an urgent transition to a world that works within Earth’s safe operating space. 

The report also features research from the Global Footprint Network that shows that while we only have one Earth, humanity is currently using the resources of 1.6 planets to provide the goods and services we use each year. 

“No matter how you add it up, the math does not look good. The more we continue to exceed Earth’s limits, the more damage we do to our own future,” said Lambertini. “We are at a decisive moment in time when we can seize the solutions to steer our food, energy and finance systems in a more sustainable direction.”

Charting the way forward

The WWF report demonstrates that we need to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment. Adequately protecting the environment alongside economic and social development requires an urgent system change by individuals, businesses and governments to move from a short-sighted approach to a visionary approach that values future generations. 

The report also illustrates the positive momentum that is building by highlighting recent global agreements on climate change and sustainable development. In particular, the report recognizes the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an essential guide to decision-making that can ensure that the environment is valued alongside economic and social interests. 

Living Planet Report 2016: Risk and resilience in a new era is the eleventh edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication. The report tracks over 14,000 vertebrate populations of over 3,700 species from 1970 to 2012.