Living Planet report

Welcome to the Anthropocene: here’s why

2 November Nov 2016 0818 02 November 2016

Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate. World food and energy systems are the keys to reverse the trend.

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Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate. World food and energy systems are the keys to reverse the trend.

Global wildlife declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012, could reach 67% by 2020 as a result of human activities, according to an alarming new report from the World Wildlife Foundation.
The Living Planet report is a biennial assessment of human impacts on planetary health published in collaboration with the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London.

The WWF said it used the Living Planet Index to measures biodiversity abundance levels based on long-term monitoring of some 3,700 vertebrate species including mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles, spread across more than 14,000 distinct populations around the globe. The results suggest that animals living in lakes, rivers and wetlands are suffering the biggest losses.

We are feeling the impact of a sick planet—from social, economic and climate stability to energy, food and water security—all increasingly suffering from environmental degradation.

Marco Lambertini,WWF International Director
Living Planet

The report explains how human activity including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution and climate change, contributed to the declines. African elephants in Tanzania declined from 44,806 estimated individuals in 2009 to 15,217 in 2014, due to widespread poaching. All over the planet, forests, grasslands, wetlands and other habitats have been and continue to be converted to agricultural and urbanized landscapes and in Europe coral reefs also face other serious threats, including overfishing, destructive fishing and pesticide pollution.

It’s important to note that the destruction of habits not only impacts plants and wildlife, it also negatively affects humans, as ecosystems are our source for food, freshwater, clean air and energy. According to the report, the growing human population is currently consuming resources far faster than the Earth can replenish. "At present, agriculture occupies about one-third of the Earth's total land area and accounts for almost 70 per cent of water use. Nearly 50 countries experienced water stress or water scarcity, and over 30% of fish stocks are overfished.

The experts warn that humanity’s impact on the earth was so overwhelming that we have moved into a new geological era - the Anthropocene that might be characterized by the world’s sixth mass extinction event. When species vanish at least 1,000 times faster than usual — in the last half a billion years.

However, there is still considerable room for optimism. Several inspiring cases of successful transitions are highlighted throughout the document. In one example, the report shows how smallholder farmers in Kenya work with local authorities and the food industry to manage the natural resources of Lake Naivasha, the country’s second largest freshwater body, a biodiversity hotspot and a significant contributor to its GDP. More, in the Melaky region on Madagascar’s west coast, local people are taking action to remedy the loss of mangroves, which are crucial to their livelihoods.

But urgent steps are needed. The report focuses on the fundamental changes required in the areas of natural capital protection, governance, financial flows, markets, and the energy and food systems to move towards sustainability. For the food system, if high-income countries adopted a healthy, balanced diet, bringing animal protein consumption in line with nutritionists’recommendations, it could reduce the pressure on natural ecosystems as well as benefiting people’s health.

The Living Planet Report identifies the renewable energy as a key system to target first. “Only the transition to a low carbon economy will assure a real future-proof solution. Examples of such solutions might be the further development, production and large-scale adoption of the electric car or the development and wide implementation of alternative green transport systems”.

We need to accelerate and intensify our efforts. Because a strong natural environment is the key to defeating poverty, improving health and developing a just and prosperous future.

Marco Lambertini

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