According to the WWF’s 2022 Living Planet Index, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have declined by an average of 69 per cent since 1970
Wildlife populations around the world are facing dramatic declines, according to new figures that have prompted environmental campaigners to call for urgent action to rescue the natural world.
The 2022 Living Planet Index (LPI), produced by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), reveals that studied populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have seen an average decline of 69 per cent since 1970, faster than previous predictions.
The LPI tracked global biodiversity between 1970 and 2018, based on the monitoring of 31,821 populations of 5230 vertebrate species.
Mark Wright of WWF says the scale of decline is “devastating” and continues to worsen. “We are not seeing any really positive signs that we are beginning to bend the curve of nature,” he says.
Freshwater vertebrates have been among the hardest hit populations, with monitored populations showing an average decline of 83 per cent since 1970.
Meanwhile, some of the most biodiverse regions of the world are seeing the steepest falls in wildlife, with the Caribbean and central and south America seeing average wildlife population sizes plummet by 94 per cent since 1970.
Habitat loss and degradation is the largest driver of wildlife loss in all regions around the world, followed by species overexploitation by hunting, fishing or poaching.
In December, governments from around the world will gather in Montreal, Canada, for the COP15 Biodiversity Framework, a much-delayed summit that aims to agree a set of new targets intended to halt the loss of animals, plants and habitats globally by 2030.
“This is a once in a decade opportunity that’s coming up,” says Robin Freeman of ZSL. He says it is vital that governments use the summit to agree “meaningful, well measurable targets and goals”.
“We need governments to have concerted action to ensure that those goals deal with the complicated combined threats of climate change and biodiversity, in order for us to see meaningful action,” says Freeman
But some researchers are critical of the LPI’s use of a headline figure of decline, warning it is vulnerable to misinterpretation.
The findings don’t mean all species or populations worldwide are in decline. In fact, approximately half the populations show a stable or increasing trend, and half show a declining trend.
“Distilling the state of the world’s biodiversity to a single figure – or even a few figures – is incredibly difficult,” says Hannah Ritchie at Our World in Data. “It definitely fails to give us an accurate understanding of what the problem is and how we move forward.”
“I think a more appropriate and useful way to look at it is to focus on specific species or populations,” says Ritchie.
But Wright says the LPI is a useful tool that reflects the findings of other biodiversity metrics, such as the IUCN Red List and the Biodiversity Intactness Index. “All of those indices, they all scream that there is something going really very badly wrong,” says Wright.
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