WWF’s Living Planet 2020 Report reveals two-thirds decline in wildlife populations on average since 1970

Posted on
09 September 2020
  • Causes include same environmental destruction - such as deforestation, unsustainable agriculture and the illegal wildlife trade - which contributes to virus outbreaks like COVID-19
  • WWF is calling for urgent action to reverse the trend by 2030 by ending the destruction of natural habitats and reforming our food system

In less than half a century, global populations* of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline. The very same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 is also largely behind the decline, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020, released today.

The Living Planet Index (LPI), provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), shows the factors believed to increase the planet’s vulnerability to pandemics - including land-use change and the use and trade of wildlife - were also some of the drivers behind the 68 per cent average decline in global vertebrate species populations between 1970 and 2016.

“Every single life on our planet is intricately connected. Our very survival is dependent on one another. Each plant, animal, and microorganism has a role to play, and by working together in harmony this biodiversity of nature ensures we each have food to eat, air to breathe, and water to drink. This connection comes with the responsibility of kaitiakitanga: to care for the environment, so our environment will care for us. The Living Planet Report 2020 shows we have not been good caretakers but there’s still hope,” says Livia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand Chief Executive.

“The Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

“We can’t ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure. From the fish in our oceans and rivers to bees which play a crucial role in our agricultural production, the decline of wildlife affects directly nutrition, food security, and the livelihoods of billions of people.”

He added: “In the midst of a global pandemic, it is now more important than ever to take unprecedented and coordinated global action to halt and start to reverse the loss of biodiversity and wildlife populations across the globe by the end of the decade, and protect our future health and livelihoods. Our own survival increasingly depends on it.”

The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the Living Planning Index (LPI), which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, and contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. It shows that the main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations is due to habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we produce food.

The LPI, which tracked almost 21,000 populations of more than 4,000 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2016, also shows that wildlife populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84 per cent - the starkest average population decline in any biome, equivalent to 4 per cent per year since 1970.

We see similar declines across Aotearoa. According to New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment, 76% of freshwater fish are threatened with extinction, 4,000 of our native species are endangered, two-thirds of our rivers are unswimmable, and less than 1% of our marine environment is protected despite being under threat.

“As a food producing nation, New Zealand is not immune to the negative impacts and pressures facing our environment. However, we often punch above our weight. This is the perfect opportunity to do so again. I believe we can be world leaders in creating a sustainability framework through policy, agriculture, and business that can halt the decline and reverse it,” says Esterhazy.

She continues, “There are some fantastic conservation success stories in New Zealand. We have great farmers, fishers, communities, and organisations leading the way of working in harmony with nature. But we won’t reverse the decline in nature with only a few shining stars. We need to commit to larger conservation efforts in conjunction with the transformation of modern food production systems and consumption patterns.”

The LPR 2020 also includes pioneering modelling which shows that without further efforts to counteract habitat loss and degradation, global biodiversity will continue to decline. This work is based on a paper, ‘Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy,’ co-authored by WWF and more than 40 NGOs and academic institutions and published today in Nature. We can ‘bend the curve’ - stabilizing and reversing the loss of nature - but only if we adopt bolder, more ambitious conservation efforts and transformational changes are made to the way we produce and consume food. Changes needed include making food production and trade more efficient and ecologically sustainable, reducing waste, and favouring healthier and more environmentally-friendly diets.

The Living Planet Report 2020 launches less than a week before the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when leaders are expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNGA 2020 will bring together world leaders, businesses and civil society to develop the post-2020 framework for action for global biodiversity and thus marks a milestone moment to set the groundwork for an urgently needed New Deal for Nature and People.

The New Deal for Nature means we commit to halving the footprint of production and consumption, zero loss of natural habitats, and zero species extinction by 2030.

Lambertini said: “The Bending the Curve modelling provides invaluable evidence that if we are to have any hope of restoring nature to provide current and future generations of people with what they need, then world leaders must - in addition to conservation efforts - make our food system more sustainable and take deforestation - one of the main causes of wildlife population decline - out of supply chains.

“With leaders gathering virtually for the UN General Assembly in a few days’ time, this research can help us secure a New Deal for Nature and People which will be key to the long-term survival of wildlife, plant and insect populations and the whole of nature, including humankind. A New Deal has never been needed more.”

Esterhazy says, “We need to hold ourselves accountable through the choices we make, our businesses accountable with our wallets, and governments accountable through our ballots. We must be accountable for nature and for ourselves.”

For more information on Living Planet 2020, visit: https://livingplanet.panda.org/en-nz

Supporters are invited to add their names to WWF’s petition which can be found at: panda.org/pandemics and help call on world leaders to implement policy frameworks and action plans that implement a ‘One Health’ approach which ensures they are doing all they can to protect us from future pandemics.


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