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If the WWF Living Planet Report 2018 doesn’t push the world to act, nothing will

One reason why the destruction in the name of “development” happens is that nature’s economic worth is invisible. Today, many economists are trying to point out that a nation’s progress should include its natural capital base and so there should be the valuation of the services that the world’s natural wealth provide.

editorials Updated: Oct 30, 2018 17:08 IST
Hindustan Times
Seven elephants died of electrocution in Dhenkanal district, Odisha, October. 27, 2018. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report 2018, a science-based assessment of the health of the planet, says that global wildlife populations have fallen by 60% in just over four decades, thanks to accelerating pollution, deforestation, climate change, and other man-made factors(Arabinda Mahapatra)

The WWF Living Planet Report 2018, a science-based assessment of the health of the planet, says that global wildlife populations have fallen by 60% in just over four decades, thanks to accelerating pollution, deforestation, climate change and other man-made factors. More than 4,000 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians declined rapidly between 1970 and 2014, the report said.

The report also found that 90% of seabirds have plastics in their stomachs, compared with 5% in 1960, while about half of the world’s shallow-water corals have been lost in the past three decades. Animal life dwindled the most rapidly in the tropical areas of Latin America and the Caribbean, with an 89% fall in populations since 1970, while species that rely on freshwater habitats, like frogs and river fish, declined in population by 83%. The WWF has called for an international treaty, modelled on the Paris climate agreement, to be drafted to protect wildlife and reverse human impacts on nature.

The report is alarming, and national governments, NGOs, media, and the public must shoulder the blame for failing spectacularly to initiate measures to arrest the trend even though there have been regular warnings. WWF’s 2016 report warned that global wildlife could decline by 67% by the end of this decade as a result of human activities. The 2017 UN Environment Annual Report and the 2018 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reports said more or less the same thing. The current efforts to protect the natural world are not keeping up with the speed of man-made destruction, and that the world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are overusing the natural resources of the planet.

This trend will continue unless human beings learn to minimise the use of resources and internalise the benefits of recycling/reuse. The nature conservation agenda is not only about securing the future of tigers, pandas, whales and all the amazing diversity of life. It’s bigger than that. There cannot be a healthy, happy and prosperous planet with a destabilised climate, depleted oceans and rivers, degraded land and empty forests, all stripped of biodiversity, the web of life that sustains us all.

One reason why the destruction in the name of “development” happens is that nature’s economic worth is invisible. Today, many economists are trying to point out that a nation’s progress should include its natural capital base; there should be a valuation of the services that the world’s natural wealth provide.

But governments and people must realise that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. They must put their weight behind the economists and scientists working to finetune standards for evaluating ecosystem services. This system of attaching a price tag is probably the only way left to sensitise human beings that all creatures great and small have some role to play in sustaining the earth’s web of life.

First Published: Oct 30, 2018 17:08 IST