It is nothing new that humans are destroying the natural environment at an unprecedented and alarming rate. A new report just reiterates this sad truth. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Report 2020, nearly 21,000 monitored populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians, encompassing almost 4,400 species around the world, have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. Species in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as global freshwater habitats, were disproportionately impacted, declining, on average, 94% and 84%, respectively.
The report, issued by WWF every two years, indicates that the rate populations are declining “signal a fundamentally broken relationship between humans and the natural world, the consequences of which – as demonstrated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – can be catastrophic.” “This report reminds us that we destroy the planet at our peril – because it is our home,” WWF US president and CEO Carter Roberts said in a statement.”
The report blames humans alone for the “dire” state of the planet. It points to the exponential growth of human consumption, population, global trade and urbanisation over the last 50 years as key reasons for the unprecedented decline of Earth’s resources – which it says the planet is incapable of replenishing. The overuse of these finite resources by at least 56% has had a devastating effect on biodiversity, which is crucial to sustaining human life on Earth.
The report points to land-use change – in particular, the destruction of habitats like rainforests for farming – as the key driver for loss of biodiversity, accounting for more than half of the loss in Europe, Central Asia, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. Much of that land is being used for agriculture, which is responsible for 80% of global deforestation and makes up 70% of freshwater use.
Using this much land requires a vast food system that releases 29% of global greenhouse gases, and the excessive amount of land and water that people are using has killed 70% of terrestrial biodiversity and 50% of freshwater biodiversity. Many species simply cannot survive under the new conditions forced upon them when their habitats are altered by humans.
Destruction of ecosystems has threatened 1mn species – 500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects – with extinction, much of which can be prevented with conservation and restoration efforts. Where and how humans produce food is one of the biggest threats to nature, the report says. One-third of all terrestrial land is used for cropping and animal breeding.
And of all the water withdrawn from available freshwater resources, 75% is used for crops or livestock. If current habitats remain the same, researchers predict that cropland areas may have to be 10-25% larger in 2050 than in 2005, just to accommodate increased food demand. That increase is expected, despite more than 820mn people facing food insecurity, indicating that much of the agricultural strain is being wasted.
Around the world, an estimated one-third of all food produced for humans is lost or wasted – about 1.4bn tonnes every year. Food waste is responsible for at least 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions – three times more than that from aviation – and nearly one-quarter of those emissions come from wasted food. The report has stressed the need for world leaders to overhaul the food production and consumption industries – taking deforestation completely out of supply chains and making trade more sustainable, among other things.
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