Nairobi, Nov 12 – An exponential growth in human consumption of natural resources is the driving force behind the current unprecedented planetary change and loss of wildlife and other biodiversity through rising demand for energy, land and water, according to a new report by WWF.

While climate change is a growing threat, the main drivers of biodiversity decline continue to be the over exploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion, according the Living Planet Report, which is published every two years.

A “recent assessment found that only a quarter of land on Earth is substantively free of the impacts of human activities. This is projected to decline to just one-tenth by 2050,” says WWF in the report. While land degradation, including forest loss, globally has slowed due to reforestation and plantations, it has accelerated in tropical forests that contain some of the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth.

Ongoing degradation has had many impacts on species, the quality of habitats and the functioning of ecosystems. Two recent studies have focused on the dramatic reductions in bee and other pollinator numbers and on the risks to soil biodiversity, critical to sustain food production and other ecosystem services.

Freshwater habitats, such as lakes, rivers and wetlands, are the source of life for all humans yet they are also the most threatened, strongly affected by a range of factors, including habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction; invasive species; overfishing; pollution; disease; and climate change.

Using big data, sophisticated imaging methods and a wave of other new tracking and analytical tools, researchers are matching commodities and their supply chains to specific impacts on biodiversity. Increasing the transparency around these complex relationships may help to stop biodiversity loss, according to the report.

“We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and the grave situation we are facing. We may also be the last generation that can do something about it. We all have a role to play in reversing the loss of nature – but time is running out.

“Between now and 2020 we have a unique opportunity to influence the shape of global agreements and targets on biodiversity, climate and sustainable development – for a positive future for nature and people,” the report adds.

“There cannot be a healthy, happy and prosperous future for people on a planet with a destabilized climate, depleted oceans and rivers, degraded land and empty forests, all stripped of biodiversity, the web of life that sustains us all,” it cautions.

“In the next years, we need to urgently transition to a net carbon-neutral society and halt and reverse nature loss – through green finance and shifting to clean energy and environmentally friendly food production. In addition, we must preserve and restore enough land and ocean in a natural state to sustain all life.”

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is an indicator of the state of global biodiversity and the health of our planet. First published in 1998, for two decades it has tracked the population abundance of thousands of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the world. It uses the trends that emerge as a measure for changes in biodiversity. ♦ Globally, nature provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year.

Quick Facts from the Report:

  • In the 20th century, freshwater fish have had the highest extinction rate worldwide among vertebrates.
  • Nearly 200 million people depend on coral reefs for protection against storm surge and waves.
  • Rainforests are shrinking: almost 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years.
  • In the last 50 years, global average temperature has risen at 170 times the background rate.
  • At least 70% of new small molecule drugs introduced over the past 25 years have come from a natural source.
  • Almost 6 billion tonnes of fish and other seafood have been taken from the world’s oceans since 1950.
  • Today, 90% of the world’s seabirds are estimated to have fragments of plastic in their stomach.