Human activity behind mass wildlife decline, says WWF

‘From now until 2020 will be a decisive moment in history’: WWF’s recent report has revealed that ‘exploding human consumption’ is causing mass extinction across the globe, as wildlife species have declined by an average of 60 per cent in the last 50 years. The report urges policy makers to make a radical change and push for more sustainable development.

elephant skull
elephant skull


Green World

Each of the world’s species has declined, on average, by 60 per cent since 1970 because of excessive human consumption, WWF’s Living Planet Report has revealed.

Released every two years, the report is a comprehensive study of trends in global biodiversity and monitors the health of the planet. It discloses the far-reaching consequences of human society, and proves that biodiversity is not just a ‘nice to have’ feature of the earth we live on: our health, food and security depend on it. Nature alone provides services worth approximately $125 trillion (£98 trillion) per year.

Yet, current levels of human consumption mean we are using more of nature’s resources than is sustainable. WWF reveals the details of how the bad habits of humans has resulted in: habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction; invasive species, overfishing, pollution; disease; and climate change.

Rainforests are shrinking: almost 20 per cent of the Amazon has disappeared in just half a century, with South and Central America seeing a nearly 90 per cent decline in wildlife populations.

The ocean is severely threatened by overexploitation and plastic pollution has been detected in all major marine environments worldwide, from shoreline and surface waters to the deepest parts of the ocean.

Meanwhile, the global average temperature has risen at 170 times the background rate over the last 50 years and only a quarter of the earth remains untouched by human activity – a fraction predicted to decrease to a mere tenth by 2050.

With the ever-increasing human population, subsequent rise in food production and need for energy, land and water, we are taking more from the earth than ever before.

Furthermore, the report points out that without healthy natural systems ‘researchers are asking whether continuing human development is possible’.

With data gathered from peer-reviewed studies covering more than 16,700 populations belonging to 4,000 species around the world, the report is ‘the scientific evidence to what nature has been telling us repeatedly: unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge’: human life included.

Can a ‘global deal for nature and people’ be established?

Although revealing some shocking statistics, WWF makes a point of saying that ‘a new global deal for nature and people’ could potentially be reached.

But, WWF emphasises that unless there is a dramatic change in our attitude, the current decline of our ecosystems will continue.

As the tide begins to change, with new post-2020 targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, there is a chance that now could be the time to make the a substantial difference. But importantly, WWF made it clear that ‘everyone – governments, business, finance, research, civil society and individuals – has a part to play’.

In an effort to make a difference, WWF is already collaborating with almost 40 universities and conservation and intergovernmental organisations to launch the research initiative Bending the Curve of Biodiversity Loss: a movement pushing for a similar global commitment to that of the 2015 Paris agreement to tackle climate change.

WWF is also pushing for biodiversity policy commitments beyond 2030, as currently there aren’t any. Furthermore, whilst an urgent solution is needed, a longer time scale is also required to ensure long-term resolutions are found, as our wildlife is not going to be restored overnight. It wants to extend beyond the current Convention on Biological Diversity’s current global plan, which only covers 2011 to 2020.

As Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This report has laid bare the planetary emergency facing wildlife and our natural world.”

He also emphasised the importance of our national leaders to take control: “Humans are to blame for this crisis, now it is up to governments to take action to address it. We urgently need a global treaty for nature and a new world leading Environment Act here in the UK.”

You can find out more about WWF’s report on the WWF website.