A staggering 67% of vertebrate species will decline by 2020 unless we take action now
Global mass extinctions are on the cards after it was revealed that populations of the planet’s large animal species will plummet by the end of the decade.
A bombshell new report shows that the number of vertebrates worldwide has nosedived – and it’s set to get worse.
Humanity must change and reduce its impact on species and ecosystems, according to WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who carried out the study.
They say populations of vertebrates – all animals with backbones such as fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals – will decline by 67% from 1970 levels by 2020.
For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife
Global populations have already declined by 58% on average since 1970.
This is an average annual decline of two per cent, with no sign yet that this rate will decrease.
Populations that have been impacted by human activity include those of African elephants in Tanzania, maned wolves in Brazil, hellbender salamanders in the USA, leatherback turtles in the tropical Atlantic, orcas in European waters and European eels in UK rivers.
The Living Planet Report 2016 is the world’s most comprehensive survey to date of the health of our planet.
It highlights how human activities including deforestation, pollution, overfishing and the illegal wildlife trade, coupled with climate change, are pushing species populations to the edge as people overpower the planet for the first time in Earth’s history.
However, widespread ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change, new restrictions on the international trade in threatened species including pangolins and African grey parrots, and conservation measures that are leading to increases in global tiger and panda populations indicate that solutions are possible.
Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland said: “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife.
“We ignore the decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us. Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.
"Facing this global challenge, all nations have a role to play. Scotland has long been a climate leader on the international stage, and a new, strong, climate action plan is just one element of doing our part to help decrease our impact on the planet’s irreplaceable diversity.”
Food production to meet the needs of an expanding human population is a key driver of the overfishing, hunting and destruction of habitats that is causing biodiversity loss.
The Living Planet Report details the enormous strain agriculture places on freshwater systems, accounting for 70% of water use and a substantial loss of wetlands.
While large food industry interests have demonstrated they can feed the world, the report makes clear that the challenge now is to do so sustainably.
This year, international scientists recommended that humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared.
And in the UK, the RSPB’s State of Nature 2016 report shows that over the last 50 years, 56% of native species have declined.
Professor Ken Norris, director of science at Zoological Society London said: “Human behaviour continues to drive the decline of wildlife populations globally, with particular impact on freshwater habitats. Importantly, however, these are declines – they are not yet extinctions – and this should be a wake-up call to marshal efforts to promote the recovery of these populations.”