Emphasising the interconnectedness of life on Earth and the planet’s unique place in the solar system, WWF launched the latest edition of its Living Planet Report from space – in a two-minute video from aboard the International Space Station (ISS) previewed in London Zoo’s insect house, an attraction that celebrates biodiversity and conservation. André Kuipers, a Dutch astronaut with the European Space Agency and a WWF “ambassador”, reflected on Earth’s fragility as he displayed a copy of the biennial report 400 kilometres above the planet.
“From up here,” Kuipers said, “I can see humanity’s footprint, including forest fires, air pollution and erosion – challenges which are reflected in this edition of the Living Planet Report.”
A hurricane photographed from the International Space Station, in orbit above Earth. © ESA / T.REITER. Used with permission.
Documenting the changing state of biodiversity, ecosystems and human demands on Earth’s natural resources, the report (subtitled Biodiversity, Biocapacity and Better Choices) explores the implications of these changes for all life on the planet. It also asserts that current negative trends can be reversed, “through making better choices that place the natural world at the centre of economies, business models and lifestyles”.
And in “On the Road to Rio+20”, a supplement to the report, WWF notes that in the two decades since the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, “fitful progress” has been made on environmental sustainability – “usually … overwhelmed by our increasing demands on the planet”. On current trends, humanity will require 2.9 Earths to meet its needs by 2050.
“We now require a far more fundamental rethink of how the world does business … to better account for the real value of natural capital and ecosystems,” WWF asserts. “Words must become action and Rio+20 is a key opportunity for world leaders to make that happen.”
What’s needed, specifically, the organisation says, are:
– Green economies to effectively manage and govern natural resources, decouple growth from resource depletion, and “improve equitable human well-being” within the limits of the planet’s ecosystems;
– Governments’ use of their fiscal, legal and regulatory powers to “fully embed human and environmental capital into private sector accounting and valuation”, and ensuring that green economies “deliver for the poor”.
– Strengthening of international cooperation between developed and developing countries;
– Greater corporate reporting standards on sustainability as part of the business sector’s key role;
– Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will address economic, social and environmental aspects in an integrated, universally applicable manner;
– “An immediate and clear process” to be set in place at next month’s Rio+20 conference, to begin developing SDGs within the framework of the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals.
Ever-growing demand for resources, the Living Planet Report says, is putting “tremendous pressure” on biodiversity: “This threatens the continued provision of ecosystem services, which not only further threatens biodiversity but also our own species’ future security, health and well-being.”
Alongside global ecological and water-footprint data, the document includes the Living Planet Index (LPI), created from data collated by WWF’s partner the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Functioning much like a stock-market index that follows share values over time, the LPI tracks the ups and downs of humanity’s “natural capital” – the essential resources and benefits provided by the planet’s ecosystems.
Among the report’s many “headlines”:
– Biodiversity declined globally by almost 30% over the 38 years covered by the data, with the greatest losses occurring in tropical areas.
– The global terrestrial, freshwater and marine indices all dropped. The freshwater index (which includes animals found in temperate and tropical lakes, rivers and wetlands) declined by 37% – more than for any other biome, or major habitat type. Taken on its own, the tropical freshwater index fell by 70%.
– Numbers of freshwater cetaceans – dolphins and porpoises living in mighty rivers such as the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus, Mekong and Amazon – have declined sharply. On land, tiger populations are at an all-time low.
– An analysis of water availability in the world’s major river basins shows that 2.7 billion people already live in catchments that experience severe shortages for at least one month of the year.
– With a 50% “ecological overshoot”, it now takes 1.5 years for the planet to regenerate the renewable resources being used and to absorb the CO2 produced in one year.
“We only have one Earth,” Kuipers said from space, adding: “While there are unsustainable pressures on the planet, we have the ability to save our home, not only for our benefit, but for generations to come.”
Singapore’s leaders realised 40 years ago that it is much more expensive for a society to live in a polluted environment than a clean one