Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds

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Context:

  • Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.
  • The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

Living Planet Report 2018:

  • It is a scientific assessment of the health of the planet which takes into account the state of world biodiversity since 1998.
  • In this landmark anniversary edition, 20 years after its original publication, the Living Planet Report 2018 provides a platform for the best science, cutting-edge research, and diverse voices on the impact of humans on the health of our Earth.
  • More than 50 experts from academia, policy, international development, and conservation organizations have contributed to this edition.
  • The report suggests that the global food habits and consumption trends of resources has disturbed the lifecycle on the planet which took billions of years in making and are hard to be regenerated.

Major Highlights of the report

  • The wildlife population has declined by an average of 60% between 1970 to 2014.
  • Marine Life: The report states that about 90 percent population of seabirds have plastic in their stomach, while it was only 5 percent in the 1960s, which indicates increasing plastic pollution in the sea.
  • Worst Affected Region: The worst affected area is South and Central America, which has witnessed an 89 percent drop invertebrate populations, primarily driven by the falling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest.
  • Worst Affected Habitat: The habitats, suffering the most significant damage, are rivers and lakes, where wildlife populations have fallen 83 percent, due to the burden of agriculture and a large number of dams. 
  • The Rate of Extinction: Current rates of species extinction are now up to 1,000 times higher than before human involvement in animal ecosystems became a factor.
  • The proportion of the planet’s land that is free from human impact is projected to drop from a quarter to a tenth by 2050, as habitat removal, hunting, pollution, disease, and climate change continues to spread.

Causes of loss

  • While climate change is a growing threat, the main drivers of biodiversity decline continue to be the overexploitation of species, land degradation.
  • Land Usage: The most significant cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland (agriculture) and land conversion.
  • Use of Synthetic Inputs: Excessive use of synthetic agricultural inputs, including pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and fertilizers, often accompanies agricultural land use. Pesticide use is a well-documented threat to birdlife. It is also associated with declines in soil and aquatic biodiversity.
  • For Food: Killing for food is the next biggest cause, ? 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction, while the oceans are massively overfished, with ? more than half now being industrially fished.
  • Increasing Demands: Humanity’s demands have far exceeded what Earth can renew. Before the explosive population growth of the 20th century, humanity’s consumption was much smaller than the Earth’s regeneration, but this is no longer the case.

Impacts:

  • Ongoing degradation has many impacts on species, the quality of habitats and the functioning of ecosystems.
  • Two recent studies have focused on the dramatic reductions in bee & other pollinator numbers and on the risks to soil biodiversity, critical to sustaining food production and other ecosystem services.
  • The rapid loss of some of the ocean’s most productive and species-rich habitats like coral reefs, mangroves threatens the well-being of hundreds of millions of people.
  • Plastic pollution is also a growing global problem. Microbeads are detected in all major marine environments worldwide, from shorelines and surface waters down to the deepest parts of the ocean, even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Land degradation has slowed

  • Globally land degradation has slowed due to reforestation and plantations; it has accelerated in tropical forests that contain some of the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth.
  • Conservation efforts can work, as it has happened with the number of tigers, which has seen a rise of 20% in India, in the past 6 years, as their habitat is being protected.
  • Giant pandas in China and otters in the UK have also been doing well.

Need of the hour:

  • The report has called for an international treaty, modelled on the Paris climate agreement, to be drafted to protect wildlife and reverse human impacts on nature. It also encouraged a deal to be struck at the 75th United Nations General Assembly in 2020.
  • The group is pushing for ‘a target that should be equivalent to the 2 degrees target (to limit global temperature rises)’ of the Paris agreement, and we still have to work out what the target is.
  • The WWF has urged the 196 member nations of the Convention on Biological Diversity to consider a range of targets when they meet in Egypt in late November.
  • It warned that current efforts to protect the natural world are not keeping up with the speed of humanmade destruction.

Way Forward

  • The current crisis is unprecedented in its speed, in its scale and also because it is single-handed. Though it is a good thing that still humans have the power to control the damage that they are doing to nature. It is the greatest challenge and opportunity of the time: to grasp the importance of preserving nature as protecting nature is also about protecting people. The environmental and human development agendas are rapidly converging. Thus, there is a need for quick action and to walk with the nature hand-in-hand towards a better future.

Source: The Guardian