WWF’s Living Planet Report Shows Humans Consuming 1.5 Earths

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 14, 2010 (ENS) – “The unprecedented drive for wealth and well-being of the past 40 years is putting unsustainable pressures on our planet,” writes WWF Director General James Leape in the newly released 2010 edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report, a biennial survey on the state of the planet’s health.

One of the longest-running measures of the trends in the state of global biodiversity, the Living Planet Index shows an overall trend since the first Living Planet Report was published in 1998: a global decline of almost 30 percent between 1970 and 2007.

Leape explains, “The Living Planet Report relates the Living Planet Index – a measure of the health of the world’s biodiversity – to the Ecological Footprint and the Water Footprint – measures of humanity’s demands on the Earth’s natural resources.”

Luxury hotel in Montecarlo (Photo by Josiah Mackenzie)

In 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, humanity’s Ecological Footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity – the area actually available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 – by 50 percent. In other words, it would take 1.5 Earths to keep up with humanity’s consumption of natural resources.

“The Ecological Footprint shows a doubling of our demands on the natural world since the 1960s, while the Living Planet Index tracks a fall of 30 percent in the health of species that are the foundation of the ecosystem services on which we all depend,” Leape writes.

The Living Planet Report shows that if everyone in the world lived like the average citizen of the European Union, the equivalent of 2.8 Earths would be required to keep up with current natural resource depletion rates and carbon dioxide emissions.

The 500 million inhabitants of the 27 European Union countries, although they make up just seven percent of the global population, are consuming almost twice as many natural resources as the global average.

“The European Union is one of the most densely populated and one of the richest continents in the world but these levels of well-being are being achieved at the expense of developing countries as well as future generations,” said Tony Long, director of WWF European Policy Office. “The fact is the EU is a big ecological debtor which the resources of the planet can no longer sustain.”

Illegal logging in Sarawak, Malaysia, February 9, 2010 (Photo by Angelo Musco)

The launch of this year’s Living Planet Report is timed to coincide with the United Nations’ International Convention on Biodiversity taking place in Nagoya, Japan, from October 18 through 29.

This Convention is the most important internationally binding treaty on nature conservation and in Nagoya preliminary meetings have already begun.

The Nagoya conference will be a test of the European Union’s determination to halt biodiversity loss, at home and globally, and to face up to the financial costs of its consumption patterns, WWF said today.

After the failure of the 2010 target to halt biodiversity loss, the 27 EU Member States agreed in March to “step up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss.”

The 27 EU Environment Ministers who are meeting in Luxembourg today will agree on the positions the EU will defend in Nagoya.

Governments meeting in Nagoya are expected to deliver:

  • a new Strategic Plan to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 with concrete targets for the next 10 years
  • a Protocol on Access and Benefits Sharing to ensure equitable sharing of benefits deriving from the use of genetic resources
  • a Resource Mobilization Strategy to increase financing for biodiversity

“Biodiversity loss needs a globally agreed rescue plan,” said Long. “Governments have to stop thinking about biodiversity protection as a cost and recognise it instead as an investment to fight climate change, provide food and nutrition for billions of people and to ensure long-term stability for life on this planet.”

For the first time the Living Planet Report looks at trends in biodiversity by country income, which highlights what the authors call “an alarming rate of biodiversity loss in low-income countries.”

Unless people make major conservation strides, the Living Planet Report warns that in just 20 years, the planet will be under even greater stress.

“Under a ‘business as usual’ scenario, the outlook is serious,” the report states. “Even with modest UN projections for population growth, consumption and climate change, by 2030 humanity will need the capacity of two Earths to absorb CO2 waste and keep up with natural resource consumption.”

“Put plainly,” writes Leape, “we have to devise ways of getting as much, and more, from much less. Continuing to consume the Earth’s resources more quickly than they can be replenished is destroying the very systems on which we depend. We have to move to managing resources on nature’s terms and on nature’s scale.”

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