Alarming decline in nature… Extinction crisis faced by Earth: The Living Planet Report 2018

Alarming decline in nature… Extinction crisis faced by Earth: The Living Planet Report 2018

“We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it. We may also be the last that can act to reverse this trend. From now until 2020 will be a decisive moment in history.”

What is Living Planet Report?

The Living Planet Report, WWF’s flagship publication released every two years, is a comprehensive study of trends in global biodiversity and the health of the planet. The Living Planet Report 2018 is the twelfth edition of the report and provides the scientific evidence to what nature has been telling us repeatedly: unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge[1].

The major highlights of the report are as follows,

Why is biodiversity conservation necessary? And why now?

On one hand, we have known for many years that we are driving the planet to the brink. The astonishing decline in wildlife populations shown by the latest Living Planet Index – a 60% fall in just over 40 years – is a grim reminder and perhaps the ultimate indicator of the pressure we exert on the planet.

On the other hand, science has never been clearer about the consequences of our impact.

In the next years, we need to urgently transition to a net carbon neutral society and halt and reverse nature loss – through green finance, clean energy and environmentally friendly food production. We must also preserve and restore enough land and ocean in a natural state. Few people have the chance to be a part of truly historic transformations. This is ours.


We live in an age of rapid and unprecedented planetary change. Indeed, many scientists believe our ever-increasing consumption, and the resulting increased demand for energy, land and water, is driving a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. It’s the first time in the Earth’s history that a single species – Homo sapiens – has had such a powerful impact on the planet.

The Great Acceleration

We are living through the Great Acceleration – a unique event in the 4.5 billion-year history of our planet – with exploding human population and economic growth driving unprecedented planetary change through the increased demand for energy, land and water [2,3]. Some of these changes have been positive, some negative, and all of them are interconnected. What is increasingly clear is that human development and wellbeing are reliant on healthy natural systems, and we cannot continue to enjoy the former without the latter.

Threats to Biodiversity- Old and New

In a recent paper, researchers writing in the journal Nature analysed the most prevalent threats facing more than 8,500 threatened or near-threatened species on the IUCN Red List [4]. They found that the key drivers of biodiversity decline remain overexploitation and agriculture. Indeed, of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since AD 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both.

A snapshot of consumption worldwide

Overexploitation and ever-expanding agriculture are driven by spiralling human consumption. Over the past 50 years our Ecological Footprint – one measure of our consumption of natural resources – has increased by about 190% [5].

Creating a more sustainable system will require major changes to production, supply and consumption activities. For this, we need a detailed understanding of how these complex components link together, and the actors involved, from source to shelf, wherever they may be on the planet [6-8].

Threats and pressures on land

In March 2018, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released its latest Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment (LDRA), finding that only a quarter of land on Earth is substantively free of the impacts of human activities [9]. By 2050 this fraction is projected to decline to just a tenth. Wetlands are the most impacted category, having lost 87% of their extent in the modern era.

Wetlands are the most impacted category, having lost 87% of their extent in the modern era

Rehabilitating damaged lands is cost-effective despite the high initial price if the full long-term costs and benefits to society are considered. Coordinated, urgent action is needed to slow and reverse the pervasive undermining of the basis of life on earth.

Population Indicator- Living Planet Index

The global index, calculated using available data for all species and regions, shows an overall decline of 60% in the population sizes of vertebrates between 1970 and 2014 – in other words, an average drop of well over half in less than 50 years.

Threats to LPI populations around the world

Species population declines are especially pronounced in the tropics, with the Neotropical realm, covering South and Central America, and the Caribbean, suffering the most dramatic decline with an 89% loss compared to 1970. Nearctic and Palearctic populations are faring slightly better with declines of 23% and 31%.

Different Biodiversity Indicators, Same story

Biodiversity: A multifaceted concept requires multiple indicators Population trend data is just one way to track changes in biodiversity. Three other biodiversity indicators can complement the Living Planet Index and put its trends in a broader context: the Species Habitat Index, measuring changes in species distribution; the IUCN Red List Index, which tracks extinction risk; and the Biodiversity Intactness Index, which looks at changes in community composition. All these paint the same picture – that of continued biodiversity loss.

Aiming Higher – Bending the Curve Of Biodiversity Loss

The analysis shows starkly how poorly natural systems have fared since internationally agreed policy commitments such as CBD targets came into force. However, it also offers a vision for the future: if we aim higher and move away from business as usual, implementing approaches designed to restore nature rather than simply tracking a managed decline, then we can achieve a healthier, more sustainable world that is good for people as well as our natural systems.

The Path Ahead

The evidence becomes stronger every day that humanity’s survival depends on our natural systems, yet we continue to destroy the health of nature at an alarming rate. It’s clear that efforts to stem the loss of biodiversity have not worked and business, as usual, will amount to, at best, a continued, managed decline. That’s why we, along with conservation and science colleagues around the world, are calling for the most ambitious international agreement yet – a new global deal for nature and people – to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. Decision-makers at every level from individuals to communities, countries and companies need to make the right political, financial and consumer choices to realize the vision that humanity and nature can thrive. This vision is possible with strong leadership from us all.


Steffen, W. et al. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1810141115 (2018)

Steffen, W., Broadgate, W., Deutsch, L., Gaffney, O. & Ludwig, C. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review 2: 81-98, doi:10.1177/2053019614564785 (2015).

Maxwell, S. L., Fuller, R. A., Brooks, T. M. & Watson, J. E. M. Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers. Nature 536: 143-145 (2016).

Global Footprint Network. National Footprint Accounts 2018 edition. (2018).

SEI and Global Canopy Trase Earth (Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Global Canopy, 2018).

Godar, J., Persson, U. M., Tizado, E. J. & Meyfroidt, P. Towards more accurate and policy-relevant footprint analyses: Tracing fine-scale socio-environmental impacts of production to consumption. Ecological Economics 112: 25-35, doi:10.1016/ j.ecolecon.2015.02.003 (2015).

Croft, S. A., West, C. D. & Green, J. M. Capturing the heterogeneity of sub-national production in global trade flows. Journal of Cleaner Production (2018).

IPBES. Summary for policymakers of the thematic assessment report on land degradation and restoration of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. (IPBES Secretariat, Bonn, Germany, 2018).

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