Wild populations of monitored animal species have plummeted nearly 70 percent in the last 50 years, according to a landmark assessment released on Thursday that highlights “devastating” losses to nature due to human activity.
Featuring data from 32,000 populations of more than 5,000 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) Living Planet Index shows accelerating falls across the globe.
In biodiversity-rich regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure for animal population loss is as high as 94 percent.
Globally, the report found that monitored animal populations had fallen 69 percent since 1970.
Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, said his organization was “extremely worried” by the new data.
“[It shows] a devastating fall in wildlife populations, in particular in tropical regions that are home to some of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world,” he said.
Mark Wright, director of science at WWF, said the figures were “truly frightening,” particularly for Latin America.
“Latin America is renowned for his biodiversity of course, it’s really important for lots of other things as well,” he said.
“It’s super important for regulating the climate. We estimate currently there’s something like 150 to 200 billion tons of carbon wrapped up in the forests of the Amazon.”
That is equivalent to 550 to 740 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 10 to 15 times more than annual greenhouse gas emissions at current rates.
The index found that freshwater species had declined more than those found in any other habitat, with an 83 percent population fall since 1970.
The report found that the main drivers of wildlife loss are habitat degradation due to development and farming, exploitation, the introduction of invasive species, pollution, climate change and disease.
Lambertini said the world needed to rethink its harmful and wasteful agricultural practices before the global food chain collapsed.
“Food systems today are responsible for over 80 percent of deforestation on land, and if you look at the ocean and freshwater they are also driving a collapse of fishery stocks and populations in those habitats,” he said.
The report argues that increasing conservation and restoration efforts, producing and consuming food more sustainably, and rapidly and deeply decarbonizing all sectors can alleviate the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. It also calls for governments to properly factor into policymaking the value of services rendered by nature, such as food, medicine and water supply.