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A giant panda cub at a conservation and research center in the Sichuan Province of China in 2019. Photo: An Yuan/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images

Wildlife populations have plummeted 68% in less than half a century and the "catastrophic" decline shows no sign of slowing down, a major conservation report published Wednesday warns.

Driving the news: The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) "Living Planet Report 2020" that monitored 4,392 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians from 1970 to 2016 points to one underlying cause for the populations decline and deterioration of nature: humanity.

What they found: Deforestation undertaken to increase agricultural land space was the biggest contributor to the decline, according to the biennial, which was in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London.

  • Three quarters of all freshwater and a third of all land mass is dedicated to food production, the report notes.
  • Populations in Latin America and the Caribbean have seen the biggest fall, with an average decline of 94%. Global freshwater species have fallen 84%.
  • "Nowhere in the ocean is entirely unaffected by humans," notes the report, with overfishing and pollution exacerbated by climate change cited as major problems.

Of note: The findings concur with those of a 2019 United Nations report that warns 1 million animal and plant species are under threat from extinction — driven by changes in land and sea use; "direct exploitation of organisms," such as hunting, fishing and logging; climate change; pollution; and invasive species.

What they're saying: WWF-U.S. President and CEO Carter Roberts said in a statement, "As humanity’s footprint expands into once-wild places, we're devastating species populations. But we're also exacerbating climate change and increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19."

Between the lines: The spillover of pathogens from animals to humans — driven mainly by human behaviors like urbanization and the demand to eat meat — is increasing, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly notes.

  • These Zoonotic diseases have "quadrupled in the last 50 years, mostly in tropical regions," a letter sent to Congress in March from more than 100 wildlife and environmental groups stated.

The bottom line: A study published in the journal Nature Thursday and co-authored by over 40 nonprofits and academics finds cutting food waste and opting for more nutritional diets would help prevent further losses to the ecosystem.

  • The WWF report also notes that the environmental crisis can be mitigated by such considerations and if world leaders take urgent action on consumption industries, including ending deforestation.

Read the full "Living Planet Report 2020," via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper: Coronavirus is tied to climate and biodiversity crises

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Jun 1, 2020 - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

Your guide to comparing climate change and coronavirus

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Climate change and the coronavirus have a lot more in common than the letter C, but their differences explain society’s divergent responses to each.

Why it matters: The Internet is full of comparisons, some from biased perspectives. I'm going to try to cut through the noise to help discerning readers looking for objective information.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Global carbon emissions rebound to pre-COVID levels

Newly released data show that global CO2 emissions had returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of last year and surpassed them in some major economies.

Why it matters: The International Energy Agency warned that clean energy efforts are falling short.

Civil rights leader and Bill Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan dies at 85

Vernon Jordan. Photo: Andy Kropa/Getty Images

Vernon Jordan, the Civil Rights Movement pioneer who served as a close adviser to former President Clinton, died on Monday evening, CNN reports. He was 85.

Why it matters: The former National Urban League president was influential in American politics — from his service in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights conference to his position in leadership at the NAACP.