Within the vast immensity of the universe, a thin layer of life encircles a planet. Bound by rock below and space above, millions of diverse species thrive. Together, they form the ecosystems and habitats we so readily recognize as planet Earth – and which, in turn, supply a multitude of ecosystem services upon which people, and all life, depend. Ever-growing human demand for resources, however, is putting tremendous pressures on biodiversity. This threatens the continued provision of ecosystem services, which not only further threatens biodiversity but also our own species’ future security, health and well-being. This ninth edition of the Living Planet Report documents the changing state of biodiversity, ecosystems and humanity’s demand on natural resources; and explores the implications of these changes for biodiversity and human societies. The report highlights that current trends can still be reversed, through making better choices that place the natural world at the centre of economies, business models and lifestyles. Chapter 1 presents the state of the planet as measured by three complementary indicators. Including data from many more species’ populations than previously, the Living Planet Index continues to show around a 30 per cent global decline in biodiversity health since 1970 (Figure 1). This trend is seen across terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, but is greatest for freshwater species, whose populations show an average 37 per cent decline. The tropical freshwater index declined even more precipitously, by 70 per cent. Overall, the global tropical index declined by 60 per cent since 1970. In contrast, the index for temperate regions increased by 31 per cent over the same period. However, this does not necessarily mean that temperate biodiversity is in a better state than tropical biodiversity, as the temperate index disguises huge historical losses prior to the start of the analysis. The Ecological Footprint shows a consistent trend of overconsumption (Figure 2). In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, the footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity – the area of land and productive oceans actually available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions – by more than 50 per cent. The carbon footprint is a significant driver of this “ecological overshoot” – the term used to describe when, at a global level, the Ecological Footprint is larger than biocapacity. A new analysis of consumption trends in BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa) countries as well as in different income and development groups, together with population and urbanization trends, underline the worrying potential for humanity’s footprint to increase even more in the future. The Water Footprint of Production provides a second indication of human demand on renewable resources. For the first time, this report includes an analysis of water availability throughout the year in the world’s major river basins. This shows that 2.7 billion people around the world already live in catchments that experience severe water shortages for at least one month a year. Chapter 2 highlights the links between biodiversity, ecosystem services and people. The impacts of human activities on three ecosystems – forests, freshwater and marine – are examinedin more detail, as well as specific analysis of ecosystem services they provide. Competing claims on natural resources such as commercial pressures on agricultural land in developing countries are also discussed. The Living Planet Report offers a view on the planet’s health. WWF also looks beyond the data to understand the human expectations and struggles, demands and contributions that are driving change on Earth. In this edition of the Living Planet Report, Kenyan farmer Margaret Wanjiru Mundia will help us do just that. Margaret will be introduced in Chapter 2. In contrast to this individual perspective, we also take a view of the world through extraordinary images from the European Space Agency (ESA). Chapter 3 looks at what the future might hold. Possible effects of climate change are examined and various scenarios are presented, including for the Ecological Footprint. These analyses indicate that continuing with “business as usual” will have serious, and potentially catastrophic, consequences. In particular, continued increases in greenhouse gas emissions will irreversibly commit the world to a global average temperature rise of well over 2oC, which will severely disrupt the functioning of almost all global ecosystems and dramatically affect human development and well-being. Clearly, the current system of human development, based on increased consumption and a reliance on fossil fuels, combined with a growing human population and poor overall management and governance of natural resources, is unsustainable. Many countries and populations already face a number of risks from biodiversity loss, degraded ecosystem services and climate change, including: food, water and energy scarcity; increased vulnerability to natural disasters; health risks; population movements; and resource-driven conflicts. These risks are disproportionately borne by the poorest people, even though they contribute relatively least to humanity’s Ecological Footprint. While some people may be able to use technology to substitute for some lost ecosystem services and to mitigate against climate change effects, these risks will only increase and become more widespread if we keep to “business as usual”. Emerging economies risk not meeting their aspirations for improved living standards, and high-income countries and communities risk seeing their current well-being eroded. Forward-thinking governments and businesses have begun making efforts to mitigate these risks, for example by promoting renewable energy, resource efficiency, more environmentally friendly production and more socially inclusive development. However, the trends and challenges outlined in this report show that most current efforts are not enough.So, how can we reverse declining biodiversity, bring the Ecological Footprint down to within planetary limits, and effectively reduce the pace of human induced climate change and reverse the damaging impacts? And how can we do this while ensuring equitable access to natural resources, food, water and energy for a growing number of people? Chapter 3 provides some solutions that we already have at hand: Alternative future scenarios based on changed food consumption patterns and halting deforestation and forest degradation illustrate some of the immediately available options for reducing ecological overshoot and mitigating climate change. These are expanded in Chapter 4, which presents WWF’s One Planet perspective for managing natural capital – biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services – within the Earth’s ecological limits. In addition to large-scale conservation and restoration efforts, this perspective seeks better choices along the entire system of production and consumption that drive the preservation of natural capital, supported by redirected financial flows and more equitable resource governance. Implementing such a paradigm shift will be a tremendous challenge, involving uncomfortable decisions and tradeoffs. But our scenarios show we can reduce the Ecological Footprint, and mitigate climate change trends, using current knowledge and technologies – and begin the path to healthy, sustainable and equitable human societies.
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