The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released the Living Planet Report 2020 on the past 10th of September, outlining the alarming rate in which global wildlife is declining due to the impact of human activities. This report was compiled by 134 experts and offers an exhaustive analysis of global biodiversity loss around the globe.
The report found that there has been an extraordinary decrease in the population sizes of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles globally since 1970. This means that more than two thirds of earth’s wildlife populations have plummeted in just two generations. The greatest decline has been seen in the tropical regions of Central and South America with a 94% fall in species. Even more disturbingly, the WWF warns that this catastrophic decline is showing no signs of curbing.
Other alarming findings disclosed an 84% decrease of freshwater species populations, a sharp decline of endangered Leatherback Turtles, with an 84% decrease in Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica alone. Across the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, elephant populations in the Central African Republic have declined by up to 98%.
The report also highlighted that 75% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface had been altered by human activity, most of the oceans were significantly polluted and more than 85% of wetlands around the world had been lost – all of which are figures which are as unprecedented as they are catastrophic.
Gerardo Peña, a biologist with Ninth Wave Global, points out that this is not new news, that a 2019 UN report disclosed that up to 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species on Earth were and remain at risk of extinction.
“We have somehow managed to put at risk of extinction 1,000,000 species in the last 50 years and lose around 600 in the last century,” Peña explains, “And remember we only know about 50% of life on earth.”
In the past, the extinction of species was widely due to the result of natural disasters, such as volcano eruptions, hurricanes and forest fires. Today, due to the impact of human activities, the rate of extinction is taking place 1000 to 10,000 times faster.
Since the industrial revolution the world has been completely altered with the introduction of global trade, population growth and the shift towards urbanisation. These trends have brought with them global warming, pollution and the degradation of habitat (mainly deforestation), three of the main modern causes for the extinction of species. Put simply, we are now consuming more natural resources than the Earth can replenish.
The high amounts of plastic pollution in the ocean has also threatened multiple species, such as sea turtles, seals and seabirds. In fact, according to the WWF, nearly half of the most important species for global fisheries were found with microplastics in their stomachs. Dr Kathy Townsend, a marine biologist from the University of Queensland, Australia, points out that even a single piece of plastic can kill a sea turtle.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), the largest offshore plastic accumulation zone in the world’s oceans, constitutes one of the biggest death traps for animals. In fact, thousands of animals die from eating or getting caught in plastic in these zones and out of them.
Mike Alcalde, a Documentary Filmmaker at Mexico Natural, refers to this global loss in biodiversity as an unprecedented environmental disaster: “The global biodiversity loss over just the last two generations is an unprecedented crisis of our time. There is no overstating this environmental disaster, nor is it a notional problem of the future: it is here, and it is now.”
The hardest part to come to terms with is that we are destroying the ecosystem which we depend on for survival, humans acting as architects of our own destruction. The loss of species, contamination of oceans and man-made global warming have negative ramifications which directly impacts humans as well as the general environment at large – affecting clean water, food sources, community safety, among many others.
“Let’s talk in costs, something that everybody understands,” Peña explains, “According to WWF’s Living Planet Index in 2018 nature was worth US$125 trillion, in comparison Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos is just worth US$113 billion.”
Peña points out that multiple organisations, such as WWF, Greenpeace and the UN, along with every scientist in the world, have emphasised that from 1970 to this day we have lost around 60% of every single organism in the planet.
“So, what about losing around 60% of your income? Or 60% of everything you have?” he says. “How would that play out for you?”
The 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) is taking place this week. World leaders, businesses and civil society are coming together to discuss a post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping stone towards the 2050 Vision of “Living in Harmony with nature”. The leaders will discuss ways in which governments worldwide can integrate biodiversity into policies, address inequalities and build a greener economy.
Putting the environment at the heart of decision-making is of vital importance, it will be argued, with the hope being that the event will bring the world one step closer to securing a safer future for humans, nature and the planet.
For Times Media Mexico
Laura Cortijo is a writer specialising in international politics, environmental affairs and human rights.
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