Last Thursday, the latest Living Planet Report from the World Wildlife Fund revealed that if action is not taken soon, more than two thirds of the world’s wildlife could be gone by the end of the decade (see report at: https://www.wnf.nl/custom/LPR_2016_fullreport/) According to the report, since 1970, there has been a 58% overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles worldwide, which means that wildlife across the globe is vanishing at a rate of 2% a year. If this trend continued, there would be an extinction of wild animals on Earth by the middle of this century.
The World Wide Fund is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1961, working in the field of wilderness preservation, and the reduction of humanity’s footprint on the environment. The Living Planet Report, published 11 times since 1998, analyzes data on the number of fish, birds, non-human mammals, amphibians and reptiles all over the world. The latest report was compiled by monitoring trends in 14,152 populations of 3,706 different species of vertebrates, including fish, mammals and birds, across the world.
In the report, the rapid extinction is blamed on habitat loss, over exploitation of resources, pollution, and climate change. In the last century, the population has grown from about 1.6 billion people to more than 7 billion, and it is expected to exceed 9 billion by mid-century. Thus, many of the problems facing wildlife involve being overfished or hunted for food and losing their habitat as more and more land is cleared for agriculture. The World Wide Fund estimates that farmland occupies more than one third of the planet’s surface. Other growing threats to wildlife include pollution and climate change, which can vary the temperature and precipitation patterns that animals have evolved to tolerate, strain their food resources, and force entire populations to migrate or face extinction.
Despite agreeing with its overall findings, some conservationists have criticized the report’s results, saying they could be misleading because while referring to the overall 58% decline in wildlife populations, the report mixes ocean life with land life. Additionally, the report does not account for how future conservation projects will help the problem. However, all experts agree that the world is losing individuals of species and geographic ranges at a very rapid rate, and that there is reason to be alarmed.
The deaths of animals and fish across the globe, in addition to being a threat to biodiversity, could also see humanity threatened. The report points out that healthy and intact ecosystems “provide us with food, fresh water, clean air, energy, medicine, and recreation. In addition, humans depend upon healthy and diverse natural systems for the regulation and purification of water and air, climatic conditions, pollination and seed dispersal, and control of pests and diseases.” Thus, some argue that it is imperative that governments act in concert to avoid the extinction of a large number of animal species, in order to preserve humanity.
Recently, on October 5, 2016, the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved and the agreement will enter into force on 4 November 2016. The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance. It sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C., but perhaps more specific measures need to be taken to protect wildlife.
In order to avoid the dramatic losses projected by this year’s World Wildlife Fund report, the authors recommend a variety of prevention tactics, including increasing the number of protected areas on Earth and committing to more sustainable energy and food systems. The alternative, the report suggests, is a world in which unsustainable activities eventually exceed the planet’s ability to support both the natural and human systems it houses.