“There is unequivocal evidence that nature is unravelling. Humanity’s destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives. A deep cultural and systemic shift is urgently needed, a transition to a society and economic system that values nature. We must rebalance our relationship with the planet to preserve the Earth’s amazing diversity of life and enable a just, healthy and prosperous society – and ultimately to ensure our own survival. “ These are the opening lines of the Living Planet Report 2020.
The Living Planet Report 2020 was researched and published by, WWF, one of the world’s largest independent conservation organizations and the Institute of Zoology (Zoological Society of London). This view is echoed by Greenpeace International, Birdlife International, the Plastic Pollution Coalition, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and every experienced conservation organisation worldwide.
The report’s results are based on the monitoring of almost 21,000 populations from 4,400 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians using 1970 as a base year. The report reveals that as at 2016 there was only 32% left of the populations of these animals when compared to 1970. There also was a corresponding decline in wild habitats. In fact it is the habitat losses that on many occasions caused the decline in species’ populations.
The 2018 Living Planet Report and previous reports have warned the general public and policymakers of the gravity of the world’s biodiversity losses and of the dire consequences. Warnings that have so far mostly fallen on deaf ears.
In the last 50 years our world has been transformed by an explosion in global trade, consumption and human population growth, as well as ever increasing urbanisation. All this has come at a huge cost to the planet’s ability to sustain life.
Business leaders and politicians worldwide are privy to all the scientific reports they need to ascertain the truth of this disastrous environmental situation. Yet they do nothing, or not nearly enough, to place us all, and future generations, in a safe place. They continue to pursue globalisation and a destructive capitalist agenda that chooses profit and power over life. They continue to set targets to 2050 when any competent and intelligent person knows we have to do this by 2030. Policymakers must act now or there will be hell to pay.
Globalisation has resulted in industrial production processes and overconsumption of food and fossil fuel energy by people that have in turn caused nature to decline globally at rates not experienced on Earth for millions of years. This, coupled with human arrogant disregard for the environment, has pushed the natural world well beyond its ability to regenerate. Nature is not a resource to be exploited, it is our home. Animal and plant species are not stock, they are sentient biological life, like us.
It is time to wake up to our ignorance and hypocrisy. We must secure the amazing diversity of life on Earth that we were born into and cherish. We owe a debt of allegiance and gratitude to nature and all other species. Countries, large and small, must therefore rise in defence of the natural world using all and any means to protect and restore land and marine ecosystems and wildlife populations. Policymakers in all countries must take unilateral action and stop using international cooperation as an excuse to do nothing.
Business-as-usual policies and behaviour are putting the future of all life on Earth in grave danger and clearly this also includes the lives of nearly eight billion humans. The Living Planet Report 2020 emphasises the need to “stop and reverse the loss of nature by 2030 and to build a carbon-neutral and nature-positive society. This is our best safeguard for human health and livelihoods in the long term, and to ensure a safe future for our children.”
Nature is essential for human existence and a good quality of life, providing and sustaining the air, freshwater and soils on which we all depend. It also regulates the climate, provides pollination and pest control and reduces the impact of natural hazards. Nature’s ability to provide this hospitable environment in the future is already seriously impaired.
The explosion in global trade, human population and urbanisation of the last fifty years is driving the destruction and degradation of nature. We are now overusing natural resources at an unprecedented rate. We continue to want to believe that the solutions are technological. They are not, the solutions are natural ones. Technology is the problem and will never be the solution.
A consortium made up of WWF and more than 40 universities, conservation organisations and intergovernmental organisations launched an initiative in 2017 that recently concluded that this decline in biodiversity and wildlife populations could, to a degree, be reversed. However “to do this will require strong leadership and action by us all” and herein lies the greatest obstacle: the inability or the unwillingness of the political class to take action.
The recent series of cataclysmic wildfires, locust plagues, mass human migrations and the coronavirus outbreak are a foretaste of what is to come. Policymakers and world leaders have been warned that biodiversity conservation should be a “non-negotiable and strategic investment to preserve our health, wealth and security”. Let us be clear – nature will survive this current sixth mass extinction of life on Earth as it survived the previous five mass extinctions. Billions of people, however, will not.
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This article was published in the Times of Malta on the 19th March 2021