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This is the current situation of the planet: Living Planet Report 2016 (WWF)

Every two years, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) publishes its Living Planet Report, which shows the state of the planet, biodiversity, ecosystems and resources. In September 2016, its 11th edition was presented. Here, there is a summary of the latest publication.   

INTRODUCTION

Our relationship with nature has been changing throughout the history of humanity. Now the impact that human beings has exerted on it is inevitably leading us to a new geological age: the Anthropocene. This video exemplifies it quite well.

It seems that we have forgotten that a healthy Earth is crucial to obtaining the resources indispensable for life: water, air, food, materials… In addition, nature sustains our economies and plays a key role in our health. Do you want to know the benefits of nature for our health?

LIVING PLANET INDEX

The Living Planet Index is an indicator of biodiversity. It is calculated by collecting data from several vertebrate populations and calculating the evolution of their abundance over time.

According to this index, between 1970 and 2012, that is in just 40 years, vertebrate populations have been reduced by 58%. Despite this, there are notable differences depending on the type of vertebrate: the reduction is 36% in marine populations, 38% in terrestrial and freshwater have been reduced by an alarming 81%. The report adds that, if this continues, by the end of this decade the overall reduction will be 67%.

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Fresh-water populations have been reduced by 81% in just 40 years (Picture: Carey James Balboa, Creative Commons).

The main threats to biodiversity are the following:

  • Habitat loss and degradation as a result of unsustainable agriculture, logging, transport, residential or commercial development, energy production, mining, watercourse fragmentation and water extraction.
  • Overexplotiation of species due to unsustainable or furtive hunting or fishing and species harvesting.
  • Pollution.
  • Invasive species and diseases, which compete for resources (space and food) with the native ones.
  • Climate change, which affects the migration and reproduction of species.

These threats affect differently the groups of vertebrates. For example, terrestrial and freshwater species are most affected by habitat loss and degradation, while marine populations are threatened mainly by overexploitation.

La sobreexplotación es la principal causa de la reducción de las poblaciones marinas (Foto: C. Ortiz Rojas, Creative Commons).
Overexplotiation is the main reason of the reduction of marine populations (Picture: C. Ortiz Rojas, Creative Commons).

AND THE LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY, WHICH EFFECTS WILL IT HAVE?

The loss of biodiversity is an indicator of the state of ecosystems. As we have already said, we depend on them for our existence. Thus, ecosystem services, that is, the benefits that nature brings to the human beings, will be reduced.

This will result in increased water and food insecurity, so that commodities are going to become more expensive and competition will increase, and war conflicts might arose for their domination. In fact, experts indicate that the World War III is going to happen to compete for water.

THAT IS OUR IMPACT ON THE EARTH

The capacity of nature to absorb the impact exerted by humans has limits. At present, our activities and the level of resource exploitation have increased dramatically and the environment is  getting deteriorated beyond its ability to regenerate.

Of the nine planetary limits, humans have already surpassed four of these systems beyond their safe operating space. These limits are climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, nutrient fluxes and land use change. It is everyone’s responsibility to respect these limits.

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We have surpassed the limits of Earth to regulate climate (Picture: Inchi9, Creative Commons).

Our manner of consuming is unsustainable and is affecting the planet. An example of this is that in 2012, it took 1.6 Earth planets to generate the resources that humans needed. This means that humanity needed 1.6 times the productive area of the Earth to supply the resources and absorb the waste that year.

The ecological footprint of consumption is composed of six components, but the one that dominates by far is the carbon. In fact, it currently accounts for 60% of the total.

OUR CHALLENGE: “ONE PLANET” PERSPECTIVE

Acting in a sustainable way will be an indispensable requirement in the Anthropocene if we want to maintain life on Earth, at least as we know it today.

The “One Planet” perspective is a model proposed by WWF that describes the best ways to govern, use and share natural resources without exceeding the ecological limits of the Earth.

Its objective is to provide food, energy and water to the world population without causing degradation of biodiversity and ecosystems.

One Planet perspective (Picture: WWF).
One Planet perspective (Picture: WWF).

To achieve a more sustainable society, it is necessary to change the current economic system: we must stop associating human development with environmental degradation and social exclusion. To achieve this, we must focus on the following aspects:

  • Conservation of natural capital through the sustainable use of resources and increase the network of protected areas.
  • Equitable governance of resources so that everyone has access to water, food and energy.
  • Reorientation of financial flows to support the conservation of ecosystems.
  • More responsible production and consumption.
  • Development of renewable energies.
  • Obtaining food without exceeding the limits of the planet.

CONCLUSION

The results of this report are really hopeless, but if we begin the transition towards a more sustainable life, we are still in time to avoid the worst scenarios.

Fortunately, more and more people are aware of the negative impact we are making on the planet and, furthermore, governments seem to be starting to take action. One example of this is the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and the Conference on Climate Change in Paris (COP21).

There is still hope, but we must all get to work! And you, what role will you play in this situation?

REFERENCES

  • WWF. 2016. Living Planet Report 2016. Resume. WWF, Gland, Suiza.
  • WWF. 2016. Living Planet Report 2016. Risk and resilience in the Anthropocene. WWW International, Gland, Suiza.
  • Cover picture: Pixabay

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