09 September 2020
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WWF sends SOS for nature as scientists warn wildlife is in freefall
- Desperate state of nature unveiled in new report: and prescription to save the natural world for people and planet
- 68% average drop in global wildlife population sizes since 1970
- Sir David Attenborough calls for international co-operation to restore the natural world
Global wildlife is in freefall, warned WWF today, as its flagship Living Planet Report 2020 reveals population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have fallen an average of 68 per cent globally since 1970 – more than two thirds in less than 50 years.
Nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, and this catastrophic decline is showing no signs of slowing, the study says. Intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland are among the main causes of nature loss, while over-fishing is wreaking havoc with marine life.
The decline has happened even faster than anticipated in 2018, and the conservation charity is warning that without urgent global action, life on Earth will be pushed to the brink.
This year’s Living Planet Report includes significant new research  from a global group of scientists which confirms for the first time the actions that can halt and reverse the downward spiral of wildlife loss. The research shows that we can only turn things around if ambitious conservation efforts to protect our wildlife are combined with urgent action to stop habitat loss and deforestation – changing our farming and the way we produce our food; tackling food waste and moving to healthier diets; and working to restore damaged habitats and landscapes.
With this urgent and ambitious global action in both conservation and the food and agriculture system, it may still be possible to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030.
In the UK, WWF is campaigning for tough new nature laws to protect and restore wildlife at home and abroad as a crucial part of the global response.
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said: “We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet, burning our forests, polluting and over-fishing our seas and destroying wild areas. 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.
“We are in a fight for our world: we now know what needs to be done, and paper promises won’t be enough. In the UK we need to fast-track tough new nature laws that protect our wildlife at home and abroad, and with the COP26 summit in Glasgow next year the Government has a huge opportunity to show global leadership in securing urgent commitments and action from world leaders.
“Only by putting the environment at the heart of our decision making can we build a safe and resilient future for nature, people and our planet.”
Highlights from the study and the latest Living Planet Index data include:
- A 94% decline in average size of monitored wildlife populations in Latin America and the Caribbean is the largest drop anywhere in the world.
- Freshwater species populations have seen a steep decline of 84% including the critically endangered Chinese sturgeon in the Yangtze river, down 97%.
- In some parts of the world, leatherback turtles have declined by between 20% and 98%, with an 84% decline at Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica.
- African elephant populations in the Central African Republic have declined by up to 98%.
- In the UK, populations of grey partridge have declined by 85% and populations of Arctic Skua in Orkney have declined by 62%.
The report also highlights that 75% of the Earth’s ice-free-land has been significantly altered by human activity, and almost 90% of global wetlands have been lost since 1700.
Conservation measures are already proving they can deliver positive results around the world, with legal protection for forest elephants in Ghana, blacktail reef sharks in Australia and tigers in Nepal resulting in large population increases, the LPI shows.
This year’s Living Planet Report also includes Voices for a Living Planet, a collection of essays from global thought leaders on how to build a healthy and resilient world for people and nature.
The lead essay is written by WWF ambassador Sir David Attenborough, who highlights that humanity is now in a new geological age, the Anthropocene. Sir David says: “The Anthropocene could be the moment we achieve a balance with the rest of 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. 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.
“The time for pure national interests has passed, internationalism has to be our approach and in doing so bring about a greater equality between what nations take from the world and what they give back. The wealthier nations have taken a lot and the time has now come to give.”
The Living Planet Report is based on data from the Living Planet Index produced by ZSL. Dr Andrew Terry, ZSL’s Director of Conservation, said: "The Living Planet Index is one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity. For this report, ZSL’s team tracked data on 20,811 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species. An average decline of 68% in the past 50 years is catastrophic, and clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world.
If nothing changes populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we all depend. But we also know that conservation works and species can be brought back from the brink. With commitment, investment and expertise, these trends can be reversed.”
WWF wants to see legislation in the upcoming Environment, Agriculture and Trade Bills that upholds UK environmental standards and stops our supply chains wrecking the planet and driving deforestation and species loss overseas.
A full version of the Living Planet Report 2020 is available here.
Images available here
B-roll video available here
NOTES TO EDITORS
Please note that Sir David Attenborough will NOT be available for any interviews or photo opportunities connected with the launch of the Living Planet Report 2020.
Examples of wildlife populations declining / increasing:
- The Irrawady dolphin has declined by roughly 44% between 1997 and 2008. This species from South and South East Asia is threatened by pollution, habitat degradation/fragmentation, and entanglement in fishing gear.
- The grey partridge has declined by 85% between 1970 and 2004 in the UK, likely due to the effects of agricultural intensification.
- The Arctic skua, found in the Orkney Islands, experienced a decline of 62% between 1982 and 2010. This is a more pronounced decline than any other seabird in the UK and is linked to competition for nesting sites and the climate-related reduction in the availability of prey species.
- Population numbers of Grauer’s Gorilla in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, DRC have seen an estimated 87% decline between 1994 and 2015, mostly due to illegal hunting.
- African elephant populations in the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem in Tanzania have declined by 86% since 1976, primarily due to poaching. African elephants declined by 98% between 1985 and 2010 due to the increasing of poaching in the early 1980s.
- Populations of the Forest Elephant in Ghana (a subspecies of African Elephant) have more than doubled in protected areas, but in the Goaso forest block the population has declined by approximately 60% - this is an area that has not benefited from any conservation projects. This decline is thought to be due to habitat loss and poaching.
- Leatherback turtles have seen a decline in two locations:
- Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica, saw an 84% decline in the estimated number of nests laid between 1995 and 2011.
- There was a 78% decline in the number of nests at Jamursba-Medi beaches in Indonesia between 1993 and 2012.
- Between 2008-9 and 2013-14, the tiger population of Nepal has increased by 64% due to conservation efforts including protection from poaching, habitat management and community engagement.
- Populations of the loggerhead turtle have increased by 154% in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park of South Africa between 1973 and 2009. Harvesting of this species ceased with the onset of active conservation and the proclamation of coastal marine protected areas.
- The blacktail reef shark population increased in relative abundance by over 360% between 2004 and 2016 after a marine protected area was established at the Ashmore Reef in Western Australia.
- The leopard shark population of North America increased by nearly 750% between 1995 and 2004 after the ban of a gill net fishery.
- Almost one in three freshwater species are threatened with extinction. The 3,741 monitored populations – representing 944 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes – in the Freshwater Living Planet Index have declined by an average of 84% (range: -89% to -77%), equivalent to 4% per year since 1970. Freshwater amphibians, reptiles and fishes have been badly impacted.
 Experts from WWF and more than 40 universities, conservation and intergovernmental organisations formed the Bending the Curve Initiative to research the most effective ways to restore our natural world. They used sophisticated modelling to prove species declines could be turned around if urgent steps are taken to boost conservation efforts and to transform how we produce and consume food. This three-point plan to tackle nature decline is included in Chapter 4 of the Living Planet Report 2020.
- Around one third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – about 1.3 billion tonnes every year.
- Humanity now overspends its biological budget every year by 56%. This means that the human enterprise currently demands 1.56 times more than the amount that Earth can regenerate. It’s like living off 1.56 Earths.
About the Living Planet Report 2020
The Living Planet Report 2020 is the thirteenth edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication and includes contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. The report draws on the latest findings measured by ZSL’s Living Planet Index, tracking 20,811 populations of 4,392 species. This year’s index includes 400 new species and 4,870 new populations. The 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68 per cent decline in monitored populations. The percentage change in the index reflects the average proportional change in animal population sizes tracked over 46 years - not the number of individual animals lost.
A full version of the Living Planet Report 2020 is available here.
An additional in-depth report into the Freshwater LPI findings is available here.
The effect of climate change on species is studied in a further report, Biodiversity In A Warming World, available here.
The Living Planet Report 2020 launches 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
WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries. Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re fighting to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources.
WWF. For your world.
For wildlife, for people, for nature.
About ZSL (Zoological Society of London)
ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Our work is realised through our ground-breaking science, our field conservation around the world and engaging millions of people through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information, visit www.zsl.org