Humans have wiped out about 60 percent of the world’s wildlife populations in the last four decades, a new report has found.
Over-exploitation of species, deforestation and agricultural use have destroyed key animal habitats around the planet from 1970 to 2014. And now, the growing threat from human-caused climate change is increasing pressure on animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2018 Living Planet report.
“Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions,” the report states.
The biannual report looked at 4,000 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles. It tracked how humanity’s appetite for land, energy and water has decimated animal populations. The species decline affects human health, food and medicine supplies, according to the report. It also carries an economic cost that increases as resources become more scarce.
Currently, about a quarter of the Earth’s land is free of the impacts of human activity, but the authors predict that will drop to just 10 percent by 2050.
The pace of loss is staggering in some ecosystems. Shallow-water coral reefs have been cut in half in the last 30 years, and about 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared over the last 50 years, the authors found. In the 1960s, 5 percent of seabirds had plastic in their stomachs, but that has now climbed to 90 percent. The population of polar bears is expected to drop 30 percent by 2050 as global warming shrinks the ice they need to hunt for food.
According to the report, climate change’s role in the losses has been only moderate so far; ecosystem destruction has had a more profound impact. But the authors warn that won’t be the case for long.
“However, [climate change] is quickly accelerating and could take a dominant role in shaping future biodiversity,” the authors wrote. “It is also likely that losses of wild species already suffering from more ‘traditional’ threats like habitat loss and overexploitation may be exacerbated by compromising a species’ ability to respond to changes in climate.”
Humans have devastated the planet’s animal species in all corners of the globe, though the losses are particularly acute in some regions. South and Central America are among the worst-hit areas, with animal species declining by 89 percent over the last five decades and freshwater species by 83 percent. The United States is one of the largest drivers of those declines.
There is time, however, to intervene and stem some of the losses, the report’s authors say. But that time, as with the chance to mitigate the most serious effects of climate change, is quickly slipping away, according to the report.
The authors urged the 200 member countries of the Convention on Biological Diversity to come up with a set of international goals to protect animal species when they meet next month in Egypt.
“We can be the founders of a global movement that changed our relationship with the planet, that saw us secure a future for all life on Earth, including our own,” WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini wrote in the report. “Or we can be the generation that had its chance and failed to act; that let Earth slip away. The choice is ours.”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.