Humans are destroying wildlife at an “unprecedented rate”, with wildlife populations declining by an average of 68 percent since 1970, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund released Thursday.
Unsustainable agriculture and deforestation are two of the main drivers and urgent action is needed to reverse the trend, according to the Living Planet 2020 report.
“Our planet is flashing red warning signs,” said Marco Lambertini, CEO of WWF International, a non-governmental organization focused on nature conservation.
“From fish in our oceans and rivers to bees, which play a crucial role in our agricultural production, the reduction of wildlife directly affects the nutrition, food security and livelihoods of billions of people.”
The situation is most striking in the tropics of Latin America, where species have declined by an average of 94% after massive deforestation and the conversion of wilderness to agriculture.
Land clearing and deforestation have reached record levels in Brazil in recent years as farmers seek to convert forests and lawns for agriculture. Livestock grazing and soybean farming – used mainly as animal feed in the meat industry – are the main drivers.
Three-quarters of the Earth’s uncharted surface has changed and no longer contains wildlife, the report said, while most of the oceans are now polluted and more than 85 percent of the planet’s wetlands have been lost.
The report calls on the world to reform the unsustainable food system, increase wildlife protection areas and people in high-meat countries – such as the United States – switch their diets to “lower animal calories.”
The findings underscore the fact that the planet is facing double crises in biodiversity and climate, both of which are inextricably linked, according to the report. A warming climate puts one-fifth of all species at risk of extinction in the next century, with those in the biological tropics most at risk.
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The severity of the climate crisis was further highlighted on Wednesday as joint U.S.-UK studies published in the Cryosphere Journal found how the massive Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica could be exposed to rapid melting after larger-than-expected warm ocean cavities – which they can eat it from below – they have been identified.
The glacier has been called the “doomsday glacier” because of its enormous size – as large as the state of Florida – and its ability to raise sea levels by more than 25 inches alone if it is to collapse rapidly.
Historically low sea ice levels have allowed research teams to map the seabed – by ship and plane – prompting them to identify hot water channels reaching the bottom of the glacier.
They found that the ocean was both deeper and the hot water channels wider than previously thought.
“For the first time, we have a clear idea of the ways in which hot water can reach the bottom of the glacier, causing melting and contributing to global sea level rise,” said lead author Dr Kelly Hogan of the British Antarctic Survey.
Thwaites’ ice loss has increased rapidly over the past 30 years and now accounts for 4 percent of global sea level rise.