Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

HUMAN damage to the planet had led to the number of birds, fish and mammals plummeting by 52 percent since 1970, according to a new report.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2014, which has tracked 10 000 representative populations of creatures over the last 44 years, also measures humans’ ecological footprint : the amount of land and water we use to produce everything we consume, and to absorb our waste.

It finds that our ecological footprint continues to climb alarmingly, and we are living beyond the means of the planet to keep us going sustainably. Our demand on natural resources is 50 percent more than the natural world can replenish – in other words, we are living as if we have one and a half Earths at our disposal.

Animals across land, rivers and in the sea are being decimated by humans who kill them for food in unsustainable numbers. Their habitats are being polluted, degraded or destroyed.

WWF International director Marco Lambertini said in the report, released yesterday, that by taking more from our ecosystems and natural processes than can be replenished, we were jeopardising our future.

“Nature conservation and sustainable development go hand in hand. They are not only about preserving biodiversity and wild places, but just as much about safeguarding the future of humanity – our well-being, economy, food security and social stability – indeed our very survival. This has to make us stop and think. What kind of a future are we heading for?” Lambertini said.

The fastest decline among animal populations was found in freshwater ecosystems where the numbers have declined by a massive 75 percent since 1970.

The world population is predicted to increase from 7.2 billion today to 9.6 billion by 2050. This increase, coupled with increasingly high per capita consumption, will place even greater demands on natural resources in the future.

The top five countries’ share of the global ecological footprint are China (19 percent), the US (13.7 percent), India (7.1 percent), Brazil (3.75 percent) and Russia (3.7 percent).

Just two countries generate 31 percent of the world’s carbon footprint: China (16 percent) and the US (15 percent). Although the population of the US is only a quarter of China’s, its carbon footprint is almost as big because each person in the US consumes so much more.

Lambertini said while we faced huge problems, it was not impossible to put this right, but to do so required fundamental change.

First we needed to unite around a common cause, and government, the private sector and civil society needed to pull together in a co-ordinated effort. Second, the world needed leadership for change.

“Sitting on a bench waiting for someone else to make the first move doesn’t work. Heads of state need to start thinking globally; businesses and consumers need to stop behaving as if we live in a limitless world… We must work to ensure that the upcoming generation can seize the opportunity that we have so far failed to grasp, to close this destructive chapter in our history and build a future where people can live and prosper in harmony with nature,” Lambertini said.