140212. Cape Town. Line fishermen are seen fishing near Simon's Town. The majority of traditional line fishermen in South Africa entered 2014 without the legal right to continue their operations. This comes after the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) denied their applications to have their rights renewed. Old rights expired at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2013. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Cape Town - The world is heading towards a hairpin bend at 160km/h. It’s time to either slam the brakes or prepare for a crash. This was the warning by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) SA’s chief executive Morné du Plessis at the launch of the Living Planet Report 2014.

The study showed that the world’s ecological footprint – a measurement of the strain that built-up land, fishing grounds and croplands, among other factors were putting on the environment – was still steadily increasing and that it was quickly becoming unsustainable.

Du Plessis said one Earth was no longer enough to service the demands of 7.5 billion people. However, South Africa’s footprint is still below the global average.

“Being among the top 10 most diverse countries in the world, South Africa has an enormous burden of responsibility,” said Du Plessis. “Yet, indications are that urbanisation in Africa will double by 2050 and with it, more reliance on our natural resources. This makes it imperative that we be vigilant and proactive about tangible and sustainable solutions. Business as usual will not stop the decline.”

The world’s population is expected to exceed 9.5 billion in the next 40 years. In research cited by the report, half of all future population growth is expected to occur in just eight countries, six of those in Africa.

The rapid increase in people is being matched by a dramatic decline in animal populations. The report found that over the past 40 years, populations of most animals had more than halved.

The Living Report tracked more than 10 000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010 (the latest complete figures available at the time) through the Living Planet Index – a database maintained by the Zoological Society in London.

Where populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined by 52 percent since 1970, freshwater species have suffered a 76 percent decline.

The organisation said the biggest recorded threats to biodiversity were habitat loss, fishing, hunting and climate change.

“Biodiversity is a crucial part of the systems that sustain life on Earth and the barometer of what we are doing to this planet, our only home. We urgently need bold global action in all sectors of society to build a more sustainable future,” said WWF International director general Marco Lambertini.

Du Plessis doubted the ability of countries to work together to slow the growing ecological footprint and the quickly declining animal populations.

“Everyone is rowing in different directions,” he said.

The report acknowledged South Africa’s efforts, showing how Cape Town, the Earth Hour Capital 2014, is working to reduce energy consumption by installing household solar water heaters and retrofitting streetlights with energy efficient technology.

It also highlights how Mondi, a pulp and packaging company, has taken the lead in mapping, protecting and rehabilitating a critical wetland, allowing commercial tree plantations and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site, to live side by side.

“If we are not going to hit the brakes, we can at least be wearing a seatbelt,” said Du Plessis.

Cape Argus