In WWF’s most recent biennial report, the organisation finds that biodiversity is at risk and the planet is overtaxed by humans, but also that there is still a chance to ‘bend the curve’ of biodiversity loss.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has published its latest biennial Living Planet Report 2020: Bending the curve of biodiversity loss. The findings it presents are dire, but not they are not irreversible.
Referring to Covid-19, Director General of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, writes in the introduction, “At a time when the world is reeling from the deepest global disruption and health crisis of a lifetime, this year’s Living Planet Report provides unequivocal and alarming evidence that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of vital natural systems failure.”
Noting that the report points out “humanity’s increasing destruction of nature” and its “catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” Lambertini calls for “a deep cultural and systemic shift ... one that so far our civilisation has failed to embrace: a transition to a society and economic system that values nature, stops taking it for granted and recognises that we depend on nature more than nature depends on us.”
According to Lambertini, humanity’s own survival depends on its “rebalancing our relationship with the planet to preserve the Earth’s amazing diversity of life and enable a just, healthy and prosperous society.”
He is optimistic about healing humanity’s relationship with nature, emphasising that “this better future starts with the decisions that governments, companies and people around the world take today. World leaders must take urgent action to protect and restore nature as the foundation for a healthy society and a thriving economy.”
While the Director General is cautious, he suggests a solution can be found if the world were to “agree a New Deal for Nature and People, committing to stop and reverse the loss of nature by the end of this decade and build a carbon-neutral and nature-positive economy and society.”
He calls it “our best safeguard for human health and livelihoods in the long term, and to ensure a safe future for our children and children’s children.”
Writing in the Living Planet Report 2020, Michael Obersteiner (The Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford and IIASA), says “today’s computing power has been used to develop a proof of concept to do just this – to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. This pioneering effort started in 2018, when WWF began a collaboration with a consortium of almost 50 partners to launch the Bending the Curve Initiative.”
Obersteiner continues: “For the first time, multiple models have been integrated to help us understand how we can reverse the loss of nature, save millions of species from extinction, and guard humans against a risky future. And the models are all telling us the same thing: that we still have an opportunity to flatten, and reverse, the loss of nature if we take urgent and unprecedented conservation action and make transformational changes in the way we produce and consume food.”
He says the question is not as simple as just deciding what sort of future we want for the world, but that the answer is “one in which humanity not only survives but thrives, which means a planet on which nature also survives and thrives.“
According to the 2020 global Living Planet Index, there is an average decline of 68 percent in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016. Why is this significant? The report says “species population trends … are a measure of overall ecosystem health.”
The report also notes that “the number of documented plant extinctions is twice as high as mammals, birds and amphibians combined.”
It concedes that measuring biodiversity is a complex, and to some extent, inexact science, yet “the vast majority of indicators show net declines over recent decades.”
Asking whether it is possible to reverse these trends of decline, the report mentions “the Bending the Curve Initiative – a consortium of WWF and more than 40 universities, conservation organisations and intergovernmental organisations – in order to research and model pathways to bend the curve of biodiversity loss,” which posed the question a couple of years ago.
The document also notes that the “pioneering” modelling has provided “proof of concept” that the terrestrial biodiversity loss from land-use change, can be halted and reversed, but that “an unprecedented and immediate” focus on “both conservation and a transformation of our modern food system” is needed “to restore biodiversity and feed a growing human population.”
According to the report, since 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint “has exceeded the Earth’s rate of regeneration. The human enterprise currently demands 1.56 times more than the amount Earth can regenerate.”
In the report, David Leclere of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), compares six different scenarios for bending the curve:
“1. The increased conservation efforts (C) scenario included an increase in the extent and management of protected areas, and increased restoration and landscape-level conservation planning.
2. The more sustainable production (supply-side efforts or SS) scenario included higher and more sustainable increases in both agricultural productivity and trade of agricultural goods.
3. The more sustainable consumption (demand-side efforts or DS) scenario included reduced waste of agricultural goods from field to fork and a diet shift to a lower share of animal calories in high meat-consuming countries.
4. The fourth looked at conservation and sustainable production (C+SS scenario).
5. The fifth combined conservation and sustainable consumption (C+DS).
6. The sixth scenario investigated interventions in all three sectors at once. This was known as the ‘integrated action portfolio’ of interventions, or IAP scenario.”
Leclere finds that bolder conservation efforts (scenario 1) is “key to bending the curve: more than any other type of action … [it] was found to limit further biodiversity losses in the future and to set global biodiversity trends on a recovery trajectory.” However, he does not recommend that it be implemented alone, because it might lead to increases in the price of agricultural products and the risk of hunger.
Leclere writes that “results show this trade-off could be strongly reduced by additional actions related to sustainable production and consumption such as closing yield gaps, reducing waste, or favouring healthier and more sustainable diets.”
Thus, Leclere recommends an “integrated approach” based on the findings, in order to succeed in bending the curve of biodiversity loss.
The report says “the health of people and that of our planet are increasingly intertwined,” giving as examples the “devastating” forest fires of 2019 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The Bending the Curve modelling tells us that, with transformational change, we can turn the tide of biodiversity loss. It is easy to talk about transformational change, but how will we, living in our complex, highly connected modern society, make it a reality?” the report asks. Realising that a “global, collective” effort is needed, the report notes that “increased conservation efforts are key, along with how we produce our food and energy.”
As a final statement, the report calls out to “citizens, governments and business leaders around the globe” who will “need to be part of a movement for change with a scale, urgency and ambition never seen before.”
Thumbnail photo: Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UK
Headline photo: Adriano Gambarini / WWF-US