Environment

WWF: Two-thirds of the world's animals could be gone by 2020

The Living Planet Report is a publication from the WWF that details the state of the planet and its implications for humans and wildlife
The Living Planet Report is a publication from the WWF that details the state of the planet and its implications for humans and wildlife
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The Living Planet Report is a publication from the WWF that details the state of the planet and its implications for humans and wildlife
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The Living Planet Report is a publication from the WWF that details the state of the planet and its implications for humans and wildlife
The report paints a dire picture, but offers hope and strategies for reversing a downward trend
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The report paints a dire picture, but offers hope and strategies for reversing a downward trend

By 2020, global wildlife populations could drop by as much as two-thirds as a result of human activity, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Indeed, the report suggests the period in which humans have been the dominant species on Earth could be viewed as the world's sixth mass-extinction event.

The Living Planet Report is a biennial publication that details the state of the planet and its implications for humans and wildlife. This year's report states that the number of vertebrates in the world fell by well over half between 1970 and 2012 and that, without intervention, the decline will continue, leading to up to 67 percent of all animals being gone by 2020.

In order to make its assessments, the WWF uses what it calls the Global Living Planet Index (LPI). This tracks the abundance of 14,152 monitored populations of 3,706 vertebrate species.

The report states that, overall, the Global LPI shows a "persistent downward trend." Populations are most threatened by habitat loss and degradation, with other threats including the over-exploitation of certain species, pollution, invasive species, disease and climate change.

The Global LPI is split into three sub-datasets. The Terrestrial LPI monitors populations in habitats like forests, savannahs and deserts and manmade environments like cities or agricultural fields; the Freshwater LPI monitors those in habitats like lakes, rivers and wetlands and the Marine LPI monitors those in habitats like oceans and seas.

The most damaging aspects of human behavior are said to be our increasing needs for food and energy. These are the biggest contributors to habitat loss and degradation for animals, with agriculture now covering a third of Earth's total land area and accounting for 70 percent of all freshwater use.

One example from the report includes over-exploitation in the form of poaching that's been partly to blame for a 66 percent decline in the elephant population in the Selous-Mikumi region of Tanzania between 2009 and 2014. Globally, the report says that 31 percent of fish stocks are being overfished with a third of shark, ray and skate species threatened with extinction because of the practice. Climate change, meanwhile, is resulting in the behavior of animals changing as unseasonal temperatures trigger things like migration and reproduction at the wrong times.

The report paints a dire picture, but offers hope and strategies for reversing a downward trend
The report paints a dire picture, but offers hope and strategies for reversing a downward trend

Such has been the impact of humans that extinction events that previously took place over hundreds of thousands to millions of years are now taking place over much shorter periods and our levels of consumption mean that, at present, we need 1.6 Earths to provide the goods and services we use each year at a sustainable level. Some scientists have said that this rapid change to the planet deserves to be named as a new epoch in the evolution of the planet: the Anthropocene.

"This is the first time a new geological epoch may be marked by what a single species (homo sapiens) has consciously done to the planet – as opposed to what the planet has imposed on resident species," said the report.

These facts make plain, says the WWF, that we must "rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment."

On that front, there is some tempered cause for optimism, it says. It notes positive momentum building in the way of "recent global agreements on climate change and sustainable development." In addition, global CO2 emissions have stabilized and may have peaked, while China's coal burning may also have peaked.

Changes must be made in our food and energy systems, though, for us to "transition" to a resilient planet. The WWF says sustainable renewable energy sources must be rapidly developed, with demand moved towards toward renewables; less animal protein consumption in high-income countries must be encouraged; waste along the food chain must be minimized; and agricultural productivity must be optimized.

"This research delivers a wake-up call that for decades we've treated our planet as if it's disposable," says WWF president and CEO Carter Roberts in a press release. "We created this problem. The good news is that we can fix it. It requires updating our approach to food, energy, transportation, and how we live our lives. We share the same planet. We rely on it for our survival. So we are all responsible for its protection."

The video below provides an insight into the Living Planet Report 2016 and you can download the entire report here (PDF).

Source: World Wildlife Fund

The Wildlife and Food Connection: What You Need to Know

18 comments
MartyLK
Heh...but mosquitoes, flies and gnat with be the survivors.
Mark Mitchell
Really? In three years two-thirds of the Earth's animals "may" be gone? In three years I doubt it will be as much as a tenth of one percent unless the piece has the date wrong and it was meant to be 2220.
xJohnny
From the PDF: "United Nations targets that aim to halt the loss of biodiversity are designed to be achieved by 2020; but by then species populations may have declined on average by 67 per cent over the last half-century." That means two-thirds decline from 1970-2020, as stated in the article.
LanceTurner
Mark Mitchell, try reading the report. From the exec summary: The Living Planet Index shows a decline of 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012 with greatest losses in freshwater environments. If current trends continue to 2020 vertebrate populations may decline by an average of 67 per cent compared to 1970. We are already most of the way to the 2/3 losses they state, and that's just since 1970. Of course, the elephant in the room is human population growth and the completely unsustainable numbers we currently exist at, let alone what it will be in anouther few decades. Unless humans stop breeding like rabbits, this planet is going to be completely screwed beyond short-term recovery in less than a century. Of course, we can't talk about controlling human breeding, after all it a human's god-given right to breed uncontrollably, isn't it.
CAVUMark
Why should we settle for the loss of even a single species?
Brian M
s@ CAVUMark Simple some species are not fit for purpose., its called evolution. For example the Panda is not exactly a good evolutionary species way to specialised for its own good (and no sex drive!). What we need to do is stop worrying about headliners, panda's, rhinos really don't matter in planetary terms, other species will easily fill their role. It species such as bees we need to worry more about, if they disappear then there is more consequential environmental affects. Although notice other insects are stepping in to take over in own garden the role of the bee. Nature and evolution is very resilient! Its not global warming, loss of species etc., we have to worry about its virtually irrelevant, its human population than needs to be halted. Less than 20% of current population should be our target, you can then forget the other issues!
watersworm
Sure, one day the Sun could stop shining . Remember of the "scare mongering" predictions of the "Club de Rome", some 40 years ago. In fact if they were true, we are almost all dead by starvation, overpopulation and the end of terrestrial ressources.
Heliotropicsquirrel
I call bullsh*t.
Bruce H. Anderson
If the key is population, then some volunteers are certainly welcome. Except, of course, for the enlightened ones.
Deane
Poaching in Africa is a terrible thing. But here in the USA animals are making a huge come-back since the 1970s. In my backyard this year my trail cam has captured skunks, squirrls, chipmonks, racoons, coyotes, deer, bears, foxes and opossums. I have seen bald eagles and red tail hawks perched on light poles along Interstate highways. When I was a kid most of these animals were rare!