The average size of wild animal populations has fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years due to deforestation and rampant overconsumption, experts said Thursday in a stern warning to save nature to save ourselves.
Human activity has severely degraded three-quarters of all land and 40% of the Earth’s oceans, and the acceleration of the destruction of nature is likely to have untold consequences for health and livelihoods, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said in its annual report on the living planet. .
The Living Planet Index, which tracks more than 4,000 vertebrate species, warned that increasing deforestation and agricultural expansion were the main drivers of an average 68% decline in populations between 1970 and 2016.
“This is an accelerated decrease that we have been monitoring for 30 years and which continues to go in the wrong direction”, WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini told AFP news agency.
“In 2016 we documented a 60% drop, now we have a 70% drop.
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“All of this is in the blink of an eye compared to the millions of years that many species have lived on the planet,” Lambertini added.
The report, a collaboration between WWF International and the Zoological Society of London, warned that continued loss of natural habitat increases the risk of future pandemics as humans get closer and closer to wild animals.
The past half-decade has seen unprecedented economic growth supported by an explosion in global consumption of natural resources.
Whereas until 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint was less than Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources, WWF now calculates that humans are over-utilizing the planet’s capacity by more than half.
The report, with contributions from around 125 experts, says that of more than 4,000 vertebrate species studied, those that live in freshwater have experienced an 84% decline.
Other seriously affected wildlife species included the eastern lowland gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the African gray parrot in Ghana.
Scientists say the rapid rate of deforestation is also a major factor in the spread of zoonotic diseases – which are transmitted from animals to humans – including the new coronavirus.
“With deforestation and increasing wildlife, livestock-human interactions, there is a greater risk of zoonotic diseases like Ebola spillover, like COVID-19,” said Fran Price, head of global forestry practice at WWF, at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Forests really act as buffers to keep these diseases away from humans – and the more we destroy them, the more likely we are to trigger something that can have disastrous effects on humanity.
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If the world continues as usual over the next decade, wildlife losses will take decades to reverse and the chances of reviving some species will be reduced, Price said.
She urged governments and businesses to do more and make efforts to make global supply chains more sustainable.
Consumers also need to understand the impacts of their shopping habits on nature and buy more responsibly, she added.
Reduce the impact of climate change
Separately, researchers at the University of Oxford said on Thursday that nature-based solutions – such as restoring forests and mangroves – were key to reducing the impacts of climate change.
In what they said was the first systematic review of the evidence on nature-based solutions in the world, they found that nearly 60 percent of these initiatives alleviated climate-related pressures such as flooding, soil erosion and loss of food production.
“It’s not just about planting trees and eliminating greenhouse gases,” said Alexandre Chausson, author of the study.
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“In many cases, nature-based interventions can help communities adapt to the wave of climate change impacts we have seen in recent months, from record heat waves to forest fires and hurricanes, ”she said in a statement.
WWF’s report included 20 expert essays from China to Mexico, ranging from young activists, authors and academics to business leaders, journalists and indigenous leaders.
Among them, respected British naturalist David Attenborough urged people to “work with nature rather than against it”.