Living Planet Report 2020 Shows Huge Loss of Nature

Humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and livelihoods, food security and all other aspects of our lives. The drivers of wildlife population decline are also direct threats to humans, potentially putting our health in peril by contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases, which jump from animals to humans such as COVID-19.

The Living Planet Report 2020 points to a catastrophic two-thirds decline of the global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish in less than half a century. The flagship report from World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) includes the Living Planet Index (LPI), which shows an average 68% fall in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016.

The report, released yesterday, also relates this unprecedented loss of biodiversity to the same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. The LPI, provided by the Zoological Society of London, shows that factors believed to increase the planet’s vulnerability to pandemics, including land-use change and the use and trade of wildlife, were also some of the drivers for the documented decline in global vertebrate species populations.

Produced every two years by WWF, the Living Planet Report is a comprehensive study of trends in global biodiversity and the health of the planet, providing an overview of the state of the natural world, human impacts and potential solutions. Living Planet Report 2020 is the thirteenth edition and it underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all other aspects of our lives.

The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the LPI, which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, and contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. It shows that the main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations on land observed in the LPI is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food.

The LPI, which tracked almost 21,000 populations of more than 4,000 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2016, also shows that wildlife populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84 per cent, the most dramatic average population decline in any biome, equivalent to 4 per cent per year since 1970.

The Living Planet Report 2020 includes pioneering modelling which shows that without further efforts to counteract habitat loss and degradation, global biodiversity will continue to decline. Based on a paper, ‘Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy,’ co-authored by WWF and published in Nature, the research makes it clear that stabilizing and reversing the loss of nature caused by humans’ destruction of natural habitats will only be possible if bolder, more ambitious conservation efforts are embraced along with transformational changes in food production and consumption.

The ‘Bending the Curve’ modelling provides invaluable evidence about how we can restore nature to provide current and future generations of people with what they need. World leaders must, in addition to conservation efforts, make our food system more sustainable and take deforestation, one of the main causes of wildlife population decline, out of supply chains. Changes needed include making food production and trade more efficient and ecologically sustainable, reducing waste, and favoring healthier and more environmentally-friendly diets.

The research shows that implementing these measures together rather than in isolation will allow the world to more rapidly alleviate pressures on wildlife habitats, thereby reversing biodiversity trends from habitat loss decades earlier than strategies that allow habitat losses and then attempt to reverse them later on. The modelling also indicates that if the world carries on with “business as usual”, rates of biodiversity loss seen since 1970 will continue over the coming years.

The Living Planet Report 2020 was released less than a week before the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when leaders are expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNGA 2020 will bring together world leaders, businesses and civil society to develop the post-2020 framework for action for global biodiversity and thus marks a milestone moment to set the groundwork for an urgently needed New Deal for Nature and People.

The findings of The Living Planet Report 2020 are clear. Our relationship with nature is broken and biodiversity on the planet is being lost at an alarming rate. The impacts of this loss on our well-being are mounting with imminent catastrophic impacts for people and planet. Time is running out. We must take action now if nature is going to recover.

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