Global wildlife population could drop nearly 70pc by 2020

27 Oct 2016

A red panda. Image: Mick Rush/Shutterstock

A damning new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has suggested that human activity has already devastated much of the planet’s wildlife, and if actions aren’t taken by 2020, it could get a whole lot worse.

The Living Planet Report 2016, issued in collaboration with five other global conservation organisations, is not shying away from the damage caused by human intervention in the global wildlife population.

Described as a “shock to read” by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the findings of the report suggest that if the data covering the last 40 years is accurate, then the next few years could prove disastrous for the planet.

Population decline as high as 81pc

According to the report, between 1970 and 2012, 58pc of the global vertebrate populations – including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish – have declined due to human activity.

Of that number, the worst hit have been animals living in the world’s lakes, rivers and freshwater systems whose populations have declined by an incredible 81pc.

Looking towards 2020 with the turn of the decade, the WWF estimated that global wildlife populations could drop by as much as two-thirds without immediate intervention.

The WWF said that many species of wildlife have lost their habitats due to an increasing demand for food and energy from a rapidly expanding human population.

Currently, agriculture occupies approximately one-third of Earth’s total land area and accounts for 70pc of all freshwater use.

‘We’ve treated our planet as if it’s disposable’

Another startling statistic found in the report was that by 2012, the equivalent of 1.6 Earths was needed to provide the natural resources and services that humanity consumed in a single year.

To reach its conclusions, the WWF analysed 14,152 populations of 3,706 vertebrate species from across the globe.

This does not mean that the planet is doomed however, as the organisation’s CEO Carter Roberts said that with a change of attitude, much of this loss can be prevented.

“This research delivers a wake-up call that for decades we’ve treated our planet as if it’s disposable,” Roberts said.

“We created this problem. The good news is that we can fix it. It requires updating our approach to food, energy, transportation, and how we live our lives. We share the same planet. We rely on it for our survival. So we are all responsible for its protection.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic