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Humans have pushed the natural world to its limits – it’s mend or break time

If we do not take “urgent and unprecedented conservation action” that allows us to coexist with nature, we are putting the health, wellbeing, prosperity and future of nearly 8 billion people at stake, according to a major new assessment.

The report by WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)’s biennial Living Planet Report 2020, says our “blatant disregard for the environment entrenched in our current economic model, has pushed the natural world to its limits.”

The evidence, according to the authors, shows “biodiversity conservation is more than an ethical commitment for humanity: it is a non-negotiable and strategic investment to preserve our health, wealth and security.”

Covid-19, according to the report, “is a clear manifestation of our broken relationship with nature. It has highlighted the deep interconnection between nature, human health and well-being, and how unprecedented biodiversity loss threatens the health of both people and the planet.”

The report explains how and why human overconsumption, population growth and intensive agriculture since the 1970s has caused wildlife populations to fall by 68% on average around the world. In the last two years, this drop has increased by nearly 10%, an acceleration that is being exacerbated by climate change, states the report.

What do we need to do?

We still have a chance to put things right by the end of the decade, according to the report.

It calls on world leaders to urgently take urgent action to “protect and restore nature as the foundation for a healthy society and a thriving economy”. To do this, it argues, we need to transform both our global food and economic systems.

Where and how we produce food is one of the biggest human-caused threats to nature and our ecosystems, making the transformation of our global food system more important than ever, according to the report.

Moreover, it argues the transformation of our economic systems is also critical. “Our economies are embedded within nature, and it is only by recognising and acting on this reality that we can protect and enhance biodiversity and improve our economic prosperity,” it states.

One of the key solutions, it finds, is helping economic and financial decision-makers interpret and listen to this information. They need help to understand, for instance, the value of ‘natural capital’ – the planet’s stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources, like plants, soils and minerals – alongside values of produced and human capital – for example, roads and skills. This, according to the report is “a measure of a country’s true wealth”.

Key findings

The report was compiled using data from the Living Plant Index (LPI), which tracks the abundance of almost 21,000 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the world between 1970 and 2016.

Among the findings:

  • 70% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has already been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted, and more than 85% of wetlands have been lost.
  • Vertebrate wildlife populations in Latin America and the Caribbean fell by 94%. Reptiles, fish and amphibians in the region were most negatively affected, driven by the overexploitation of ecosystems, habitat fragmentation and disease.
  • The abundance of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles in Africa and the Asia Pacific region have dropped 65% and 45% respectively.
  • The abundance of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles in Europe and central Asia fell 24%, while populations dropped 33% on average in North America.

While the picture is mostly bleak, the index shows that some species can recover with conservation efforts. The blacktail reef shark, for instance, in Australia and Nepalese tiger populations have both shown signs of recovery.

Take Action

You can play a huge part in reversing this. Your choices matter. We have a responsibility to interrogate where the products we buy are coming from and what trails of destruction they are leaving behind.

You can choose FSC labels for your paper and timber products and MSC labels for your seafood; you can reject fast fashion; you can expose those buying illegal wildlife products; you can remove red meat from your diet; you can find out if your banks and pensions are being invested in climate damaging industries; you can write to your politicians demanding why they aren’t doing more to stave off this species decline. And much, much more.

For more information about how you can help reverse this spiralling decline of biodiversity that threatens us all, click on the icons below:

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