A new version of the biennial “Living Planet” report by the World Wildlife Fund shows the extent of decline in global animal populations in the past few decades. The 2016 edition of the report was published Thursday, finding a 58 percent overall decline in vertebrate populations between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year for which data was available. The World Wildlife Fund cautioned that if this rate of decline continues, the world will have lost over two thirds of all wildlife by 2020.
The numbers in the report refer to how the total population size has been affected, rather than the number of species which have gone extinct. The organization has also released equally grave estimates as to these extinction rates, indicating they are between 1,000 and 10,000 time higher than natural extinction rates.
Senior director for the WWF’s Wildlife Conservation Program Colby Loucks, explained that “As humanity continues to demand more and more of the earth and puts pressures on our natural capital, what we’re seeing is the fraying of wildlife.”
The report identifies these patterns of decline in mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Loucks identifies five top threats to wildlife populations and the environment in general, which he calls the “five horsemen” of the environmental apocalypse. These include habitat loss, pollution, overexploitation, invasive species, and climate change.
The WWF documents deline in the populations of 3,706 land, ocean, and freshwater species, with freshwater species hit the hardest. Populations among this group have declined a staggering 81 percent, according to the report. While freshwater habitats only account for 0.01 percent of the Earth’s surface, they are home to 1 out of 10 species of all wildlife.
According to the report, human pressures on Earth’s resources have increased to the extent that we would need “1.6 earths to provide the goods and services we use each year.”
WWF also ranks nations according to the “ecological footprint” of their consumption, with wealthy nations such as the United States, Canada, and Australia topping the list.
“I don’t think people really know the extent of these declines. Ultimately, we’re going to need collective action to try and maintain both humans and what we need, as well as the natural world,” Loucks said.
Despite the bleak outlook, the WWF emphasizes that there is still time to stop mass extinction. The report cited efforts to reduce emissions and stop climate change, as well as global shifts toward renewable energy, as evidence we are not “starting from scratch.”