60 per cent of wildlife worldwide has been lost

WWF report reveals staggering extent of human impact on planet

Toronto, Oct. 29, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Global wildlife populations have declined by 60 per cent on average in just over 40 years, according to World Wildlife Fund’s new global Living Planet Report. The report, released today, presents a sobering picture of the harmful human impacts on wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers and climate. It underlines the rapidly closing window for action and the urgent need for widescale adoption of new approaches to valuing, protecting and restoring nature.


Canadian context

Canadian wildlife are not exempt from this global biodiversity crisis. WWF’s recent Living Planet Report Canada found that half of monitored vertebrate species in this country are declining, and of those, the decline is 83 per cent. This report also found that federally protected at-risk species have continued to decline since the Species at Risk Act became law.    


Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada’s president and CEO, says:

“Our constantly increasing demands on nature are driving wildlife to extinction. It’s not just elephants, freshwater dolphins and rhinos, but Canadian wildlife too. Caribou, southern resident killer whales, burrowing owls: These Canadian species have been pushed to the brink by human impacts on nature.


“We are at a pivotal moment. We still have a chance to turn around our impact on nature and begin to reverse the decline on wildlife. Canada has committed to new land protections the size of Alberta by 2020. If we do this right, by choosing connected areas that have maximum value for wildlife, we could make meaningful progress on supporting biodiversity here at home. But if we squander this opportunity, we will condemn many more species to population loss and even extinction.”


The science

The Living Planet Report 2018 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world, 20 years after the flagship report was first published. Through indicators such as the Living Planet Index, provided by the Zoological Society of London, the Species Habitat Index, the IUCN Red List Index and the Biodiversity Intactness Index, as well as planetary boundaries and the ecological footprint, the report paints a disturbing picture: Human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge.


What is driving global species loss?

Habitat loss due to agriculture and overexploitation of species remain the biggest threats to biodiversity and ecosystems globally. These threats are particularly evident in the tropics, resulting in more significant wildlife loss in those areas. Only one-quarter of land on Earth is free from impacts of human activities and that number is projected to decline to just one- tenth by 2050.


Habitat loss is the greatest threat to Canadian wildlife as well from forestry, agriculture, urbanization and industrial development. Boreal forests and wetlands – both substantial carbon sinks – have experienced considerable disruption in Canada.


Climate change is a growing threat, already having an effect at an ecosystem and species level.


What can be done?

This Living Planet Report echoes the urgency heard from the recent International Panel on Climate Change’s report Global Warming of 1.5°C: We are in the midst of a planetary crisis caused by human activities and we are still trending in the wrong direction.


To date, the loss of 60 per cent of our wildlife worldwide has failed to galvanize governments, businesses and individuals. Like climate change, bending the curve on biodiversity loss requires immediate action.


Governments at all levels, business, industry and the public must immediately join forces to meet Canada’s baseline commitments on biodiversity, protected areas and climate change. Failure to do so will result in continuing wildlife losses, with many species heading towards extinction. Specifically, we must:

  • Create new high-quality networks of protected areas for terrestrial and inland waters, that prioritize species at risk, benefit the highest number of wildlife and act as massive carbon sinks.
  • Create new networks of marine protected areas that prioritize critical habitat and foraging areas for species at risk, while keeping harmful development and extractive activities such as oil and gas exploration out of marine protected areas and marine refuges.
  • Demonstrate political will and use the tools in the Species at Risk Act to prevent the extinction of our most vulnerable species (for example, issue an emergency order for southern resident killer whales).
  • Stop delaying on the promise to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies and transition that funding to support habitat-friendly renewable energy development and jobs instead.
  • Update Bill C-69 – the Impact Assessment Act – to ensure that all major development decisions are evaluated based on climate and biodiversity impacts, including:
    • A carbon budget that limits emissions to 1.5C warming.
    • Strategic, regional assessments that consider cumulative effects on ecosystems and wildlife.


Two recent federal decisions have created increased protections for Canada’s wildlife:

  • Fish and other freshwater species habitat will be better protected in the new Fisheries Act (passed in the House of Commons this past June), which safeguards the flow of water essential for healthy freshwater systems and wildlife.
  • Marine mammals, forage fish and other marine wildlife will be better protected once the recommendations from the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards are passed into law, as it brings Canada’s marine protected areas in line with international standards by, among other things, banning activities such as oil and gas development.



Key findings from Living Planet Report

  • Wildlife population declines are especially pronounced in the tropics, with South and Central America and the Caribbean suffering 89 per cent loss since 1970.
  • Habitat degradation and loss is consistently the most reported global threat to biodiversity.
  • Freshwater species numbers have also declined dramatically, with the Freshwater Index showing an 83 per cent decline since 1970.



Key findings from Living Planet Report Canada

  • Mammals: Populations dropped 43 per cent.
  • Amphibians and reptiles: Populations dropped 34 per cent.
  • Fish: Populations declined by 20 per cent.
  • Birds: While some groups of birds are showing signs of recovery, others aren’t faring as well. Monitored populations of grassland birds dropped 69 per cent, aerial insectivores fell 51 per cent, and shorebird populations declined by 43 per cent.


About World Wildlife Fund Canada

WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.


For further information

Rebecca Spring, senior communications specialist, rspring@wwfcanada.org, +1 647-338-6274


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