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May 14, 2012

WWF: Earth Biodiversity Declining Rapidly

by Lisa Schlein

GENEVA - The World Wide Fund For Nature warns the world is consuming more of the Earth's resources than the planet can bear.  WWF is launching its Living Planet Report just five weeks before nations gather at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to press political leaders into action to protect the earth for future generations.

The World Wide Fund for Nature calls the planet sick and says it has the statistics to prove that. WWF says its Living Planet index finds biodiversity has decreased globally by nearly 30 percent since 1970 and, in the hardest hit tropics, by 60 percent.

The report also measures the ecological footprint of nations; that is the accumulative pressure they put on the planet.  It gauges the total amount of land and resources used, including the amount of carbon emissions and compares this with how much land and sea is available.

WWF Director-General Jim Leape says there has been a huge increase and unsustainable demand for natural resources since 1961.  "So, at this point, we are using 50 percent more resources each year than the Earth can replenish. … We are living as if we had one-and-one-half planets to support us. … So, while we are now 50 percent over the earth's capacity to support us, by 2030 we would need two planets to support the way we are living - [and] by 2050, almost three planets. So, we are on a track that is clearly by any measure unsustainable," he said.

The report considers the impact of human population growth and over-consumption as critical driving forces behind environmental pressure.

WWF finds wealthy countries on average consume five times more natural resources than do poor countries. This is borne out by the top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person. They include three oil-producing countries in the Middle East, four European countries, the United States, Canada and Australia.  

The Living Planet Index notes declines in biodiversity since 1970 have been fastest in lower-income countries.  It says this demonstrates how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are subsidizing the lifestyles of wealthier countries.  

Jim Leape says time is running out for the planet, but it has not yet run out, and there are many actions nations and individuals can take to reverse biodiversity decline. He says some ecosystems must be protected, whether in the water or on land. He says some land must be put aside to maintain the health of the larger system.  

"It is also important that we are restoring native ecosystems and managing them in a way that sustains the basic integrity of those systems. So you will see this in the report: If countries step up and end net deforestation by 2020 - and many countries have already pledged to do this - then you could save 180 million hectares of forest by 2050, compared to business as usual," he said.

The environmentalists also are urging nations to become more energy-efficient. They say nations should develop renewable energy, in particular wind and solar. They say this can make nations fuel independent, save them money and slow down climate change by lowering carbon dioxide emissions. They are calling for better water management and a stop to over-fishing.

WWF says individuals can do a lot to preserve the world's dwindling resources by becoming smarter consumers. It says they can choose to walk rather than drive, they can buy food produced closer to home than that which is transported long distances. It says people can use the power of the ballot box to vote in politicians who are environmentally friendly and oust those who are not.