According to WWF, humans have decimated half of the world’s wildlife in the past four decades – we’re also very close to killing off our own species.

The conservation group’s Living Planet Report, published every two years, says humankind’s demands are now 50% more than nature can bear, with trees being felled, groundwater pumped and carbon dioxide emitted faster than Earth can recover.

“This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live,” says Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, in a statement. However, there is still hope to save the remaining wildlife if politicians and businesses take the right action to protect nature, says the report.

Dead and gone: Top, a mass die-off of herring that occurred in Troms, Norway, on New Year's Eve of 2011. WWF's Living Planet Report claims that 52% of the world's population of wildlife has been decimated over the 40-year period between 1970 and 2010. Bottom, an infographic showing The Living Planet Index (LPI), illustrating the staggering percentages of animals that have been lost during the 40-year period.


“It is essential that we seize the opportunity – while we still can – to develop sustainably and create a future where people can live and prosper in harmony with nature,” says WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini. Preserving nature is not just about protecting wild places but also about safeguarding the future of humanity, he adds.

The report’s finding on the populations of vertebrate wildlife finds that the biggest declines were in tropical regions, especially Latin America. The WWF’s Living Planet Index (LPI) is based on trends in 10,380 populations of 3,038 mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species.

The average 52% decline is more extensive than previously reported, partly because previous studies had relied more on readily available information from North America and Europe, says WWF. The same report two years ago put the decline at 28% between 1970 and 2008.

The worst decline is among populations of freshwater species, which has fallen by 76% over the four decades to 2010, while marine and terrestrial numbers have both fallen by 39%.

Ecological footprint

The main reasons for declining populations were the loss of natural habitats, exploitation through hunting or fishing, and climate change. To gauge the variations between different countries’ environmental impact, the report measures how big an “ecological footprint” each one has had and how much productive land and water area, or “biocapacity”, with each country being accounted for.

Kuwaitis had the biggest ecological footprint, meaning they consume and waste more resources per head than any other nation, says the report, followed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. “If all people on the planet had the footprint of the average resident of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets. If we lived the lifestyle of a typical resident of the USA, we would need 3.9 planets,” says the report.

Many poorer countries – including India, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have ecological footprints that are well within the planet’s ability to absorb their demands.

The report also measures how close the planet is to nine so-called “planetary boundaries”, thresholds of “potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it”. Three such thresholds have already been crossed – biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels and nitrogen pollution from fertilisers. Two more are in danger of being breached –ocean acidification and phosphorus levels in freshwater.

“Given the pace and scale of change, we can no longer exclude the possibility of reaching critical tipping points that could abruptly and irreversibly change living conditions on Earth,” says the report. – Reuters