Code red: Global wildlife plummets by 70% since 1970, report warns

The world’s top scientists believe that this massive human-driven loss of species calls for urgent and immediate action.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warned in a recent report that the world’s wildlife populations fell by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018, a dangerous decline caused by climate change and other human activity.

The report highlights the planet’s “double emergency” of climate and loss of biodiversity, caused directly by degradation of land and sea systems which exploits animals and plants.

Researchers used Zoological Society of London data on the status of 32,000 wildlife populations for more than 5,000 species to measure changes in the abundance of wildlife across continents and taxa.

Deforestation, human exploitation, pollution, and climate change were the biggest drivers of the loss.

The report’s 89 authors are calling on world leaders to reach an ambitious agreement at the Cop15 biodiversity summit in Canada this December in order to reduce carbon emissions and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius this decade to avoid total destruction of human life.

The rapid decline shows “that nature is unravelling and the natural world is emptying,” said Andrew Terry, director of conservation and policy at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Andrew Terry, director of conservation and policy at ZSL, said in a statement that the index “highlights how we have cut away the very foundation of life … (and that) preventing further biodiversity loss and restoring vital ecosystems has to be at the top of global agendas to tackle the mounting climate, environmental and public health crises.”

Wildlife populations in Latin America and the Caribbean show the greatest decline, experiencing a 94% average drop in just fifty years. The report warned that the Amazon rainforest is nearing the point of being nonfunctional.

Africa had the second largest fall at 66%, followed by Asia and the Pacific with 55%.

North American animal populations declined by an average of 20% , while Europe and Central Asia experienced an 18% fall.

Some species have experienced precipitous declines in short periods of time. For example, the Amazon pink river dolphin in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Brazilian state of Amazonas saw a population decline of 65% between 1994 and 2016, the report found.

The eastern lowland gorilla population in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park fell by 80% between 1994 and 2019, while the Australian sea lion lost 64% of its population between 1977 and 2019.

The reports’ findings were broadly similar to those in WWF’s last assessment in 2020. The wildlife population had declined by 68% two years ago, and was at 60% four years ago.

The decline isn’t inevitable but urgent action is needed, the report’s authors say.

“In order to see any bending of the curve of biodiversity loss … it’s not just about conservation it’s about changing production and consumption – and the only way that we are going to be able to legislate or call for that is to have these clear measurable targets that ask for recovery of abundance, reduction of extinction risk and the ceasing of extinctions at Cop15 in December,”said Robin Freeman, head of the indicators and assessments unit at ZSL.

The planet’s average temperatures have risen by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. If this continues, the average global temperature could breach the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark within the next 18 years, according to reports.

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