In one lifetime, there has been a devastating 69% drop on average of monitored wildlife populations* - mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish - since 1970, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report (LPR) 2022. The report highlights the stark outlook of the state of nature and urgently warns governments, businesses, and the public to take transformative action to reverse the destruction of biodiversity.
With its biggest dataset yet, featuring almost 32,000 populations of 5,230 species, the Living Planet Index (LPI), provided within the report by ZSL (Zoological Society of London), shows it is within tropical regions that monitored vertebrate wildlife populations are plummeting at a particularly staggering rate. WWF is extremely concerned about this trend given that these geographical areas are some of the most biodiverse in the world. In particular, the LPI data revealing that monitored wildlife populations in Latin America and the Caribbean region have dropped by 94% on average between 1970 and 2018.
The largest decline of a species group was in the monitored freshwater populations which have fallen by an average of 83%. Habitat loss and barriers to migration routes are responsible for about half of the threats to monitored migratory fish species.
Commenting on the findings, WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini, says, “We face the double emergencies of human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss, threatening the well-being of current and future generations. WWF is extremely worried by this new data showing a devastating fall in wildlife populations, in particular in tropical regions that are home to some of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world.”
Acting CEO for WWF-New Zealand Lou Sanson shared Lambertini’s concerns, “It is devastating to witness the potential collapse of our natural world. We can not believe the problem is somewhere else. It is right here in Aotearoa. With more than 4000 species threatened or at risk of extinction, New Zealand has one of the world’s highest proportion of species at risk. Nature is this country’s greatest asset. Not only because it is the foundation for our tourism and primary industries but because it underpins everything we need to survive. Its importance grows as global temperature rise and biodiversity falls.”
World leaders are due to meet at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) this December for a once-in-a-decade opportunity to course-correct for the sake of people and the planet. WWF is advocating for leaders to commit to a ‘Paris-style’ agreement capable of reversing biodiversity loss to secure a nature-positive world by 2030.
“At the COP15 biodiversity conference this December, leaders have an opportunity to reset our broken relationship with the natural world and deliver a healthier, more sustainable future for all with an ambitious nature-positive global biodiversity agreement,” says Dr Lambertini. “In the face of our escalating nature crisis, it’s essential this agreement delivers immediate action on the ground, including through a transformation of the sectors driving nature loss, and financial support to developing countries.”
“New Zealand can play our part. WWF hopes our Government will be ambitious at COP15 and support a nature-positive global biodiversity agreement. Our Government needs to be ambitious at home, as well. While 30% of our land environment is set aside to protect nature, less than 1% of our ocean is protected. Only a massive effort will allow us to reach the ‘30 x 30’ targets, agreed to be over 70 countries, that will help avoid the perilous effects of runaway climate change. We need, at the bare minimum, 30% of our land and marine environments to be protected. WWF-New Zealand strongly encourages our Government to prioritise and incorporate the restoration of nature into its climate plans,” says Sanson.
Some of the species populations captured in the LPI include the Amazon pink river dolphin population, which saw populations plummet by 65% between 1994 and 2016 in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Brazilian state of Amazonas; the eastern lowland gorilla, whose numbers saw an estimated 80% decline in DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park between 1994 and 2019; and populations of the Australian sea lion, which declined by 64% between 1977 and 2019.
Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation and Policy at ZSL, says, “The Living Planet Index highlights how we have cut away the very foundation of life and the situation continues to worsen. Half of the global economy and billions of people are directly reliant on nature. Preventing further biodiversity loss and restoring vital ecosystems has to be at the top of global agendas to tackle the mounting climate, environmental and public health crises.”
Around the world, the report indicates that the main drivers of wildlife population decline are habitat degradation and loss, exploitation, the introduction of invasive species, pollution, climate change and disease. Several of these factors played a part in Africa’s 66% fall in its wildlife populations over the period, as well as Asia Pacific’s overall 55% drop.
The LPR report makes clear that delivering a nature-positive future will not be possible without recognising and respecting the rights, governance, and conservation leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world.
“WWF-New Zealand recognises how important it is to work with iwi, hapū, and indigenous communities to help restore and enhance Aotearoa’s natural world from sea to sky. We are genuinely committed to upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi, seeking direction to ensure our actions fulfil this commitment,” says Sanson.
The report argues that increasing conservation and restoration efforts, producing and consuming food in particular more sustainably, and rapidly and deeply decarbonising all sectors can mitigate the twin crises. The authors call on policymakers to transform economies so natural resources are properly valued.
“The Living Planet Report contains shocking figures directly related to our interlinked climate and biodiversity crises and in response we must see transformative systems change if we’re to halt and reverse nature loss and secure a flourishing future for people and nature,” said Dr Lambertini. “Government leaders must step up at COP15. The world is watching.”