WWF-Canada Blog:

Massive plunge in wildlife expected by 2020. Here’s why, and what you can do

Every two years, the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London report on the health of the planet with an updated index of wildlife populations. This year, the numbers are especially bleak: Populations have already declined on average by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. And unless we act quickly, we risk a decline of 67 per cent by 2020. That’s more than two-thirds of wildlife on this planet lost in just one lifetime.

A third of sharks, rays and skates are estimated to be threatened with extinction primarily because of overfishing. © naturepl.com / Doug Perrine / WWF

A third of sharks, rays and skates are estimated to be threatened with extinction primarily because of overfishing. © naturepl.com / Doug Perrine / WWF

The Living Planet Report 2016 tells us that land-based populations have experienced a 38 per cent decline. Ocean populations have declined by 36 per cent. And freshwater populations have suffered a staggering 81 per cent decline.  

Despite all our efforts, the trend is moving in the wrong direction, and we have only ourselves to blame. The pressures on wildlife are human-caused: Habitat loss and fragmentation due to climate change, land-use decisions and pollution are some of the most significant drivers of wildlife decline.

Visit the the Living Planet Report 2016 hub for full coverage, including:

According to the report, the global population consumes each year the renewable resources of 1.6 Earths.

It’s often said that the world needs more Canada, but how do we compare? We know that in Canada, our ecological footprint is even greater: If all the world lived like Canadians, we would need 4.7 Earths.  

We are consuming more than nature can deliver. And wildlife is paying the price. A mass migration has already begun as wildlife move in reaction to changing seasons, to find water, to escape wildfires, to go where sea ice once prevented them from going.  

Clearly, something has to give. The Living Planet Report identifies key systems to target first, including fuel and finance. To limit warming to just 1.5°C (which could still mean 5°C warming in the Arctic), we must accelerate the widespread transition to habitat-friendly renewable energy. And we must devise an economic measure that takes the environment into account.

WWF-Canada is pioneering approaches to renewable energy deployment that is habitat friendly for every energy type: on land, in freshwater, marine and Arctic environments.

WWF-Canada is pioneering approaches to renewable energy deployment that is habitat friendly for every energy type: on land, in freshwater, marine and Arctic environments.© Michel Gunther / WWF

Measuring the growth of GDP as our main policy goal won’t work in the long term because GDP fails to measure the cost of environmental destruction. Growth sounds like a good goal, but we are beginning to reach the limits of what is possible. Instead, we need to think in terms of prosperity for all. And with this new goal, we need new economic measures that include the value of benefits we derive from a healthy environment (like fish to eat, clean water to drink and air to breathe) and the environmental costs of production and consumption that are currently being borne by all wildlife, including people.

We know we can live –  and prosper – within nature’s limits. To get there, we need a more sophisticated equation. Carbon pricing is a significant first step.

But it’s not enough. Canada is home to 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater supply and 10 per cent of the world’s remaining forests. We have the ability to protect significant portions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Considering the interconnectedness of Earth’s systems, Canada has a unique responsibility to protect biodiversity.   

Wildlife in Canada, too, are facing increasing pressure from climate change, habitat loss and industrialization. The destruction of habitats and ecosystems hurts us all, as these habitats provide food, energy and materials vital to human survival as well. We can do better.  

The biggest threats to species are habitat loss and degradation, followed by overexploitation. © WWF-US / Deborah Gainer

The biggest threats to species are habitat loss and degradation, followed by overexploitation. © WWF-US / Deborah Gainer

WWF-Canada works with communities, industry and academia to devise, test and implement on-the-ground solutions to the problems that threaten wildlife and their habitat. In the course of that work, we also make policy recommendations to government in hopes of creating conditions for success. Some of these recommendations are stated publicly, others are included in testimony for government committees and rarely see the light of day. Given the magnitude of the findings in the 2016 Living Planet Report, we have put them together this list of 15 steps Canada can take now to protect biodiversity. For all wildlife, including us. Before it’s too late.

  • Paul Smyth says:

    Can we really do anything to stop this? Look at what humans have done to this planet in 200 years. What we have done is an atrocity. We have taken this planet and used it only for our own purposes without consideration for the species that were here long before us. We have emptied the ocean of fish and filled it with toxins and plastic. Rachel Carson warned us about this 50 years ago. Instead of spending billions in an effort to get to Mars all the countries of the world need to focus money and resources on reversing habit destruction now. I had a grandson born two weeks ago and I fear for the type of world he will be in when he graduates from school in 2034; that is assuming there is any kind of world to graduate from. Nothing else is more important at this time in our history than saving the planet or we shall cease to exist sooner than we thought. I was born in 1952 and it makes me mad as hell what we have done in 64 years.

  • Dan Costello says:

    Human habitat is a reverse pyramid resting on the green bits 75% gone by 2020 http://www.grisanik.com/static/images/71-human-population-xkcd.jpg

    Peter Wadhams reports Chinese agrobusiness is already displacing tribes across SE Asia, S. America and Central Africa. Massive deforestation largely accelerated due to increased rates of Chinese OFDI. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/22032016/china-success-regrowing-its-forests-has-flip-side-deforestation-carbon-emissions

    Of course a handful of other BigAg MNCs are doing the same thing. Most lands were once pristine tropical rainforests as little as 20 years ago. These food security issues have been known to me since roughly 2008/2009. Unfortunately, local indigenous populations worldwide will likely respond negatively as food, water and energy security issues impacting 30% of Chinese, Indian and US populations come into play as early as 2025 among aquanano experts or 2030 according to Circle of Blue and Wilson Center.

    Social impact will likely force renationalization of these Chinese and other MNC operations abroad as the first things starving people usually do is raid their neighbours. (“Grim” Dyer) The ecological recession risk is far advanced beyond what the media generally reports and scientists already admitted recently that conservative/under-reporting is the norm as most fear losing their research funding. Global business as usual has very, very little path left.

    In short, no, I don’t see any of this as sensational. For anyone who has travelled widely other than imported sand beaches in the Caribbean, ecological declines of this scale have been painfully obvious for some time. What is sensational is that the largest, most powerful, richest economies in the world have refused to listen to their best ecologists, energy engineers, water specialists and what remains of investigative reporters for decades.

    We’re coming to the end of the line? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XFpaVfFIMFQ

  • Glen says:

    Okay, you need to clarify some things. I agree we are in dire straights, but I believe we need better stats to make a case. The numbers seem inaccurate at best, and sensationalized. First, you are saying from 1972 to 2012, that we have lost 58%, right? That is an average of 1.38% per year. Why do you state 2% (that would lead to 96% of the 1972 value lost by 2020) ? Second, you state we will have lost 2/3rds by 2020. In my opinion you are deliberately wording it for sensational effect to make people think that you mean 2/3rds loss from now to 2020, which is way different than 2/3 from 1972 to 2020 (which is still really bad). In my opinion, this type of communication undermines the message, because it gets written off as alarmist propaganda. It would also be more credible with more than just 1972 and 2012 as the data points, and with information (URL) on where the data comes from.

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