A 2018 report from the World Wildlife Fund, the leading organization in wildlife conservation and endangered species, reveals a telling decline in global wildlife populations since 1970 and identifies unsustainable human activity as the primary culprit.
Researchers tracked 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species for the WWF's comprehensive Living Planet Report 2018, measuring the planet's biodiversity using six different indicators, including the changing size of wildlife populations, the changes in species habitats and how much demand human consumption places on the biosphere.
One of most significant findings is that from 1970 to 2014, the planet experienced a 60 percent overall decline in vertebrate population sizes, such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Freshwater populations have seen an 83 percent decline since 1970. And populations in the tropics, specifically in South and Central America, have suffered an 89 percent decline.
Extinction risks are also up for birds, mammals, amphibians, corals and cycads, "indicating that species are moving towards extinction more rapidly."
The top threats identified in the report — habitat loss, degradation and overexploitation of wildlife — are directly linked to human activities, according to WWF.
“Current analysis suggests that humans have already pushed four planetary boundaries beyond the limit of a safe operating space,” researchers wrote. “Nature and different ecosystem services provide us with the food we eat, the water we drink and use for our societies and industries, the clean air we breathe and yet, we are pushing nature to the brink.”
The WWF notes that almost 20 percent of the Amazon has disappeared in 50 years, and 90 percent of the world’s seabirds likely have fragments of plastic in their stomach. Compare that to 5 percent in 1960.
Related: We have 12 years left to act on climate change, UN warns
Global temperatures have risen at 170 times the background rate in the last 50 years. The planet has lost about half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years. At this rate, WWF warns that less than 10 percent of the planet’s land will be free of human impact by 2050.
"This report sounds a warning shot across our bow. Natural systems essential to our survival – forests, oceans, and rivers – remain in decline. Wildlife around the world continue to dwindle," WWF-US president and CEO Carter Roberts said in a news release. "It reminds us we need to change course. It's time to balance our consumption with the needs of nature, and to protect the only planet that is our home."
WWF researchers call for world leaders to come together on climate, biodiversity and sustainable development and to deliver "a comprehensive framework agreement for nature and people" under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the only international legal instrument explicitly focused on protecting the planet.
“A set of collective actions are needed, together with a road map for targets, indicators and metrics for reversing nature loss, including for example, scenarios for land use change, dietary shifts, sustainable harvesting as well as traditional conservation approaches such as protected areas,” they wrote.
The WWF research follows the recent dire United Nations climate report warning humans have 12 years to act on climate change.
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