Oct 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Wildlife populations have declined by 69% since 1970, new report says

African elephants in a sanctuary in Kenya in September 2022.

African elephants in a sanctuary in Kenya in September 2022. Photo: Fredrik Lernery/AFP via Getty Images

Wildlife populations around the world have plummeted by 69% since the 1970s primarily from human-caused environmental degradation and, to a lesser extent, climate change, according to a new report published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Why it matters: The extensive report is a grim indicator of the effects of rampant agriculture, fishing, hunting, logging, invasive species and pollution on nature over roughly 50 years.

How it works: The report used data from the Zoological Society of London on almost 32,000 wildlife populations of 5,230 species across the planet.

  • The data showed that monitored populations decreased by an average of 69% in relative abundance between 1970 and 2018.
  • For example, the population of the Amazon pink river dolphin in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in western Brazil declined by 65% between 1994 and 2016.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean experienced the greatest regional decline in average wildlife population abundance (94%), and freshwater species saw the largest overall global decline (83%), according to the report.

What they're saying: “The world is waking up to the fact that our future depends on reversing the loss of nature just as much as it depends on addressing climate change. And you can’t solve one without solving the other,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF-US, in a statement.

  • “Everyone has a role to play in reversing these trends, from individuals to companies to governments," Roberts added.
  • “In the US, Congress should finalize this year’s funding bills with significant increases for global conservation programs. Doing so would empower the federal government to drive greater progress in conserving and restoring nature, and send a signal to other countries that it expects other actors to do the same.”

The big picture: Currently, 1 million plants and animals around the world risk becoming extinct, and between 1 and 2.5% of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish have already gone extinct, according to the report.

  • While climate change has so far not been the dominant driver of population loss and biodiversity loss, the report noted that it will likely become the prime driver if the planet warms beyond 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Go deeper ... Study: World at risk of triggering multiple climate "tipping points"

Go deeper