WWF’s Living Planet Report reveals two-thirds decline in wildlife populations on average since 1970

Posted on September, 10 2020

An average 24 percent decline in Europe and Central Asia
Global populations* of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average 68 per cent decline in less than half a century, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020, released today. 
This is due in large part to the very same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19.

The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the Living Planet Index (LPI), which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, and contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. The LPI, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), shows that factors believed to increase the planet’s vulnerability to pandemics - including land-use change and the use and trade of wildlife - were also some of the drivers behind the 68 percent average decline in global vertebrate species populations between 1970 and 2016.

In Europe and Central Asia, there has been an average 24 percent decline during the same time span.

“These findings are devastating, and a stark reminder that a healthy planet is a precondition for a healthy human society, and that the European Green Deal is as relevant as ever. Urgent action is needed to halt and reverse the loss of nature and tackle climate change, both within the EU and globally,” said Ester Asin, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office.

“The recently proposed EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies are potential game changers and must now be unequivocally endorsed and implemented by Member States and Parliament. But that is not enough. We must also curb the EU’s global footprint, which is driving the destruction of forests, grasslands and other precious ecosystems outside of Europe. A strong new law to keep products linked to deforestation out of the EU market is urgently needed!”

The Commission’s proposals for the EU biodiversity and farm to fork strategies included essential and long overdue targets on protected areas, restoration of nature, organic farming and the reduction of agricultural chemicals. WWF especially welcomed the commitment to present legally binding EU nature restoration targets in 2021. WWF is advocating for 15% of the EU’s land and 15% of sea to be restored towards resilient ecosystems, benefiting both biodiversity and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Human consumption driving biodiversity loss

The Living Planet Report shows that the main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations on land observed in the LPI is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food.

The EU is the world’s second-largest market for forest-risk commodities, such as soy and beef, after China. While the EU imports less soy than China, studies show its soy imports carry a greater risk of being linked to deforestation.

Last week, the European Commission launched a public consultation on a new EU law on deforestation. This is a critical window of opportunity to make a difference to the EU’s deforestation footprint and drastically reduce the EU’s role in deforestation, ecosystem degradation and forest fires abroad. EU consumers need to be sure that the products they buy are not linked to deforestation and forest fires: only a strong EU law can achieve this.

Freshwater species most threatened on the planet

The LPI shows that wildlife populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84 per cent - the starkest average population decline in any biome. These findings follow the bleak news that populations of migratory freshwater fish species have plummeted globally by 76% on average since 1970, including a 93% collapse in Europe.

With the Water Framework Directive having recently been given the final sign-off, the EU must now invest in full implementation and enforcement, which includes eradicating the misuse of the exemptions provided under the law - particularly when these allow more hydropower projects to go ahead.

Climate change exacerbating biodiversity loss

Climate change is projected to become one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss in the coming decades. At the same time, nature loss can adversely affect climate – for example, deforestation increases greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it is essential that the climate and biodiversity crises are addressed together.

The new EU climate law - a key component of the European Green Deal - could be a milestone in our fight against climate change. The law must include a 65% emissions reduction target for 2030  and an independent scientific body to scrutinise EU climate policy. In addition, the law must ensure all policies align with the EU’s climate targets by 2021.
“The findings of this report, and the Covid-19 crisis have demonstrated quite how closely human and planetary health are linked. Now is the moment for our politicians to put their money where their mouth is, by earmarking half of the EU recovery fund for environment and climate action, and ensuring that not a penny will go to fossil fuels and other harmful sectors,” concluded Ester Asin.
For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Angelika Pullen
Communications Director, WWF European Policy Office
+32 473 94 79 66

Notes to Editors
- *Using the data from 4,392 species and 20,811 populations, the 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68 per cent decline in monitored populations. The percentage change in the index reflects the average proportional change in animal population sizes tracked over 46 years - not the number of individual animals lost.
- The full Living Planet Report 2018 and summary versions of the report are available here
- The LPR 2020 is the thirteenth edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication.
- To complement the findings of the ‘Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy’ paper, the Living Planet Report curated a special collection of 20 essays from world-class experts from China to Mexico, ranging from young activists, authors and academics to business leaders, journalists and indigenous leaders, to share with us how they picture a healthy planet for people and nature. They include Sir David Attenborough, pioneer of nature documentary film-making and WWF ambassador and Cass R. Sunstein, behavioural economist and New York Times best-selling coauthor of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.
LPR 2020 cover page
© WWF Int