Wildlife has fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a report by WWF which calls it a “catastrophic decline” that shows no sign of slowing down.
Also, it warns that nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before. The destruction is “in freefall” as we burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas, says Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF.
“We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out.”
What the numbers mean?
The report looked at thousands of species monitored by conservation scientists in habitats across the world and recorded an average 68% fall in more than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970.
The decline is evidence of the damage by human activity to the nature, said Dr Andrew Terry, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which provided the data.
“If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we depend,” he added.
The report further says the Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how nature and humans are intertwined. Factors leading to pandemics that include habitat loss and the abuse and trade of wildlife, are some of the drivers behind the decline.
New modelling evidence suggests we can halt and reverse this habitat loss and deforestation if urgent conservation actions are adopted and way we produce and consume food changes.
British TV presenter and naturalist Sir David Attenborough said Anthropocene, the geological age during which human activity has come to the fore, could be the moment we achieve a balance with the natural world and become stewards of our planet.
“Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials,” he said.
“But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world.”
Sir David presents a new documentary on extinction to be aired on BBC One in the UK on Sunday 13 September at 20:00 BST.
How do we measure loss of nature?
This report used an index of whether populations of wildlife are going up or down. It does not tell the number of species lost, or extinctions.
The largest declines are in tropical areas. The drop of 94% for Latin America and the Caribbean is the largest in the world, driven by a cocktail of threats to reptiles, amphibians and birds.
“This report is looking at the global picture and the need to act soon in order to start reversing these trends,” said Louise McRae of ZSL.
The data has been used for modelling work to look at what might be needed to reverse the decline.
Research published in the journal Nature suggests that to turn the tide we must transform the way we produce and consume food, including reducing food waste and eating food with a lower environmental impact.
Prof Dame Georgina Mace of UCL said conservation actions alone wouldn’t be sufficient to “bend the curve on biodiversity loss”.
“It will require actions from other sectors, and here we show that the food system will be particularly important, both from the agricultural sector on the supply side, and consumers on the demand side,” she said.
What do other data tell us about the loss of nature?
Extinction data compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has evaluated more than 100,000 species of plants and animals, with more than 32,000 species threatened with extinction.
In 2019, an intergovernmental panel of scientists concluded that one million species (500,000 animals and plants, and 500,000 insects) are threatened with extinction, some within decades.
The WWF report is one of many assessments of the present state of nature being published in the coming weeks and months in the build-up to a major summit next year.
The UN will reveal its latest assessment of the state of nature next Tuesday.