Australia in the red on environmental balance sheet: Living Planet Report

THE tenth edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report, launched at the United Nations in Geneva today, is a stark call to action for a world living beyond its means.

The report reveals that humanity’s demand on the planet is more than 50 per cent greater than what nature can sustain, with dramatic declines in biodiversity since 1970.

With the theme Species and Spaces, People and Places, the report tracks over 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010 through the Living Planet Index – a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London. The report’s measure of humanity’s Ecological Footprint is provided by the Global Footprint Network.

Critical wildlife declines

According to the Living Planet Index, representative populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined by 52 per cent since 1970. Freshwater species have suffered a 76 per cent decline, almost double that of land and marine species.

“Of the populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish tracked around the world since 1970, we’ve lost more than half in just two generations,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.

“The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the ecosystems essential for our well-being is alarming, and a direct consequence of the way we produce and consume.”

The report shows that the biggest threat to biodiversity comes from the combined impacts of habitat loss and degradation. Fishing and hunting are also significant threats. Climate change is becoming increasingly worrisome, with research cited in the report finding that climate change is already responsible for the possible extinction of species.

While biodiversity loss around the world is at critical levels, the Living Planet Report 2014 highlights how effectively managed protected areas can support wildlife.

“Wildlife populations in land-based protected areas have suffered less than half the rate of decline of those in unprotected areas. In one example, Nepal is noted for increasing its tiger population in recent years,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Ecological Footprint

The Living Planet Report also ranks the ecological footprints of 152 countries, with Australia having the 13th biggest ecological footprint per capita on the planet, at 6.25 global hectares per person each year.

A global hectare is a common unit that averages out what the world’s productive land and ocean can generate over the course of a year. This includes cropland, forests and fishing grounds but does not include unproductive environments like deserts, glaciers and the open ocean.

“The report shows that if everyone on the planet lived like we do in Australia, we’d need the regenerative capacity of 3.6 planet Earths to maintain our current lifestyles,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“Australians are not alone in our ecological overspending. For more than 40 years, humanity’s footprint on nature has exceeded what our planet can sustain,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“We are cutting trees faster than they mature, harvesting more fish than our oceans can replenish, and emitting more carbon into the atmosphere than forests and oceans can absorb.

“This ecological overshoot leads to diminished resource stocks and waste accumulating faster than it can be absorbed or recycled, such as with the rising level of carbon pollution in the atmosphere. The consequences are dangerous climate change, water scarcity, food insecurity and ongoing wildlife declines.”

The climate threat

The report comes months after a United Nations study warned of the growing impacts of climate change and gives support to the finding that climate change is already affecting the health of the planet.

Carbon pollution, mainly from burning fossil fuels, has been the dominant component of humanity’s ecological footprint for more than half a century, and remains on an upward trend. In 1961, carbon pollution was 36 per cent of humanity’s global ecological footprint; by 2010, it comprised 53 per cent.

In Australia, carbon pollution makes up over half of our ecological footprint, highlighting the need for decisive action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

“If we are to live within our means and stop this ecological overshoot, we need to introduce urgent measures that address our growing carbon footprint,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“Scaling up the Renewable Energy Target and strengthening the government’s pollution reduction target from 5 per cent to at least 25 per cent by 2020 are two ways to achieve this.”

Sustainable solutions

The report also offers solutions for managing natural resources, while respecting ecological limits. It highlights the good work being done by thousands of farmers, working in partnership with government, scientists and NGOs, in an effort to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.

“The good news is that Australians are pioneering innovative production methods that are good for businesses, communities and the environment, and which show the way forward for a growing world population,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“Investment in innovative farming practices on the Queensland coast has seen significant reductions in pesticide and fertilizer pollution on the Great Barrier Reef over the past five years, with benefits for farmers, tourism and fishing businesses, and for marine life.”

The Living Planet Report credits pioneering farming practices on the Queensland coast for achieving a 15 per cent reduction in pesticide pollution and a 13 per cent reduction in fertilizer pollution onto the Reef over the past five years.

“The planet is clearly under stress but with better production and smarter choices to protect our natural assets and reduce our footprint we can turn the tide and start to live within our means,” Mr O’Gorman said.

The Living Planet Report 2014 is a collaboration between WWF and principle research partners, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network. Two new partners in this year’s report are the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Oxfam.

Source: WWF-Australia
Photo Source: ABC News

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.

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