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Global wildlife populations could drop two-thirds by 2020 as human demand continues to exceed the planet’s capacity

Oakland, California, USA—The overexploitation of ecological resources by humanity is directly contributing to the 67 percent plunge in wild vertebrate populations scientists forecast for the 50-year period ending in 2020, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016.

The top threats to species identified in the report are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss, degradation, and overexploitation of wildlife. According to Global Footprint Network, humanity is currently using the resources of 1.6 planets to provide the goods and services we demand each year while we only have one Earth.

Under a business-as-usual path for the underlying drivers of resource consumption, increasing human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems is projected to exceed their regenerative capacity by about 75 percent by 2020, according to Global Footprint Network, which has collaborated with WWF on the biennial Living Planet Report since 2000.

“Changing this course will require considerable shifts in technology, infrastructure, and behavior,” said Mathis Wackernagel, Co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network. “The good news is that we know what we need to do, and the technologies that can help us get there already exist. The only thing missing is the public will to embark on the path.”

Global Ecological Footprint Forecast to 2020

“No matter how you add it up, the math does not look good. The more we continue to exceed Earth’s limits, the more damage we do to our own future.  Biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food and climate services that they provide us,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.

The WWF report uses the Living Planet Index, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), to monitor trends in wildlife abundance. It finds that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles have already declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data. This places the world on a trajectory of a potential two-thirds decline within a span of the half century ending in 2020.

“Human behavior continues to drive the decline of wildlife populations globally, with particular impact in freshwater habitats,” said Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL.

According to the report, the food demand of an expanding human population is leading the race in the destruction of habitats and overexploitation of wildlife. At present, agriculture occupies about one-third of the Earth’s total land area, and accounts for almost 70 percent of water use.

Unequal Demand

All countries are not contributing equally to the global demand on nature. The average per capita Ecological Footprint in high-income countries is almost three times that of middle-income countries, and about six times that of low-income countries. Carbon emissions made up more than half of the Footprint of high- and middle-income countries, while biomass-based components (demand for cropland, grazing land, forest, and fishing grounds) still represented the largest Footprint share for low-income countries.in 2012.

Ecological Footprint for High-, Middle-, and Low-income Countries

Also, patterns of consumption vary between countries, even among those whose Ecological Footprints stand at comparable levels. While populations in China and Argentina, for example, place roughly equivalent pressures on the environment to fulfill their consumption, consumption activities vary greatly. In Argentina, food accounts for slightly more than half of the Ecological Footprint, due to high levels of meat consumption. By contrast, in China, consumption related to housing accounts for a large share due to China’s high reliance of fossil fuels for heating.

Ecological Footprint Breakdown by Consumption Activities

Another Path to 2020

Fortunately, 2020 is also a year of great promise. Commitments made under the Paris climate deal will kick in, and the first environmental actions under the new United Nations sustainable development plan are due in that same year. If we adhere to the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, carbon emissions will need to gradually fall to zero before 2050.

“Transitioning to a carbon-free economy will require a new way of living. The new lifestyle will come with many benefits, including deploying and enjoying innovative technologies that create new jobs, as well as developing a just and prosperous future,” said Wackernagel,

The Living Planet Report 2016 focuses on the fundamental changes required in the global energy and finance systems to meet the sustainability needs of future generations. The report also outlines solutions to reform the way we produce and consume food to help ensure that the world is well-fed in a sustainable way. Through several examples around the world—from mangrove restoration in Madagascar to the removal of a dam in the United States—the report demonstrates that we need to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success, and value the natural environment.

Additional Resources:

Living Planet Report Page:

Free detailed Ecological Footprint data for nearly 200 nations: http://footprintnetwork.org/licenses/public-data-package-free-edition/

Full report (PDF):

Report summary (PDF):

Personal Footprint calculator:

Interactive Footprint maps:

About Global Footprint Network

Global Footprint Network is a research organization that is changing how the world manages its natural resources and responds to climate change. Since 2003 we’ve engaged with more than 50 nations, 30 cities, and 70 global partners to deliver scientific insights that have driven high-impact policy and investment decisions. Together, we’re creating a future where all of us can thrive within our planet’s limits. http://footprintnetwork.org/

About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. www.panda.org

About Zoological Society of London

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our groundbreaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. www.zsl.org