30 October 2018

Nothing natural about nature’s steep decline: WWF report reveals staggering extent of human impact on planet

Humanity and the way we feed, fuel and finance our societies and economies is pushing nature and the services that power and sustain us to the brink, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018.

© Global Warming Images / WWF

© Global Warming Images / WWF

The report, released today, presents a sobering picture of the impact of human activity on the world’s wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers and climate, underlining the rapidly closing window for action and the urgent need for the global community to collectively rethink and redefine how we value, protect and restore nature.

The Living Planet Report 2018 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world, twenty years after the flagship report was first published. Through indicators such as the Living Planet Index (LPI), provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Species Habitat Index (SHI), the IUCN Red List Index (RLI) and the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), as well as Planetary Boundaries and the Ecological Footprint, the report paints a singular disturbing picture: human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on earth to the edge.

The LPI, which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, indicates that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined, on average, by 60% between 1970 and 2014, the most recent year with available data. The top threats to species identified in the report are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss and degradation and overexploitation of wildlife.

“From rivers and rainforests, to mangroves and mountainsides, across the planet our work shows that wildlife abundance has declined dramatically since 1970. The statistics are scary, but all hope is not lost. We have an opportunity to design a new path forward that allows us to co-exist sustainably with the wildlife we depend upon. Our report sets out an ambitious agenda for change. We are going to need your help to achieve it,” says Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

The report contains contributions from 59 authors from 26 institutions, including David Leclère and Piero Visconti from the IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program.

Visconti contributed to chapter 3: Biodiversity in a changing world, due to his recent research into the RLI and SHI, including data from his own analyses. He says that biodiversity is so multifaceted, the LPI alone is not enough to monitor its status and trends, and like the economy, a suite of metrics is necessary.

“Animal population abundance is an important measure of the health of natural environments and its decline is alarming in its own right. However, other biodiversity indicators are giving us even more worrying signals, especially the increasing aggregate risk of extinction of several animal and plant species, and the total number of extinct species. Unlike population declines, extinctions are irreversible,” he says.

Leclère, meanwhile, contributed to chapter 4: Aiming Higher: What future do we want?, on how scenarios, such as the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), developed at IIASA, can help to imagine the future of the planet and contribute to good policy.


Human activity undermining nature’s ability to support humanity

Over recent decades, human activity has severely impacted the habitats and natural resources wildlife and humanity depend on such as oceans, forests, coral reefs, wetlands and mangroves. 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years while the earth is estimated to have lost about half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years.

While highlighting the extent and impact of human activity on nature, the Living Planet Report 2018 also focuses on the importance and value of nature to people’s health and well-being and that of our societies and economies. Globally, nature provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year, while also helping ensure the supply of fresh air, clean water, food, energy, medicines and other products and materials.

The report specifically looks at the importance of pollinators which are responsible for US$ 235-577 billion in crop production per year, and how a changing climate, intensive agricultural practices, invasive species and emerging diseases have impacted their abundance, diversity and health.

“It is time we realized that a healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life. We need to urgently rethink how we use and value nature - culturally, economically and on our political agendas. We need to think of nature as beautiful and inspirational, but also as indispensable,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.


A roadmap for action on nature - for 2020 and beyond

Evidence shows that the two agendas - for the environment and human development - must converge if we are to build a sustainable future for all. The Living Planet Report 2018 highlights the opportunity the global community has to protect and restore nature leading up to 2020, a critical year when leaders are expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

WWF is calling on people, businesses and governments to mobilize and deliver on a comprehensive framework agreement for nature and people under the CBD, one that galvanizes public and private action to protect and restore global biodiversity and nature and bend the curve on the devastating trends highlighted in the Living Planet Report 2018.

Chapter 4 of the report is inspired by a paper titled ‘Aiming higher to bend the curve of biodiversity loss’ which suggests a roadmap for the targets, indicators and metrics the 196 member states of the CBD could consider to deliver an urgent, ambitious and effective global agreement for nature, as the world did for climate in Paris, when they meet at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP14) in Egypt in November 2018. COP14 marks a milestone moment to set the groundwork for an urgently needed global deal for nature and people.

“As highlighted in Chapter 4, the upcoming post-2020 strategy provides a unique opportunity to reverse declining trends in biodiversity. Yet, it is also clear such ambition could conflict with human development. For example, one of the biggest drivers of terrestrial biodiversity loss - habitat loss and degradation - is the direct result of human activities that also support the needs of a growing human population. What we need for a sound post-2020 strategy is a more precise assessment of the type of land use pathways and policies that could help navigate the global food system,” says Leclère.

He adds that IIASA models and scenarios could be instrumental in developing such strategies, including the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM), and the SSPs.

Living Planet Report 2018 is the twelfth edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication. The report includes the latest findings measured by the Living Planet Index tracking 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2014.


WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report - 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten M and Almond REA (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland. wwf.panda.org/lpr [pure.iiasa.ac.at/15549/]

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Last edited: 30 October 2018


David Leclere

Senior Research Scholar Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

Piero Visconti

Research Group Leader and Principal Research Scholar Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program


Rucha Naware

WWF International

+32 465751339


Richard Arcari

ZSL Senior Communications Officer

+44 207 449 6242


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