The 2022 The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report details the extent of environmental degradation currently being experienced around the world, and our uncertain future if current environmental trends continue. The Living Planet Index, updated every two years, serves as an early warning system for irreparable loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation. The WWF is raising this alarm in their 2022 issue.
Unsustainable exploitation of resources is the primary factor causing biodiversity loss and climate change. Latin America has seen a 17% reduction in forests, with an additional 17% degraded. Time is running out to prevent the “lungs of the world” from collapsing.
The earth has already experienced a 1.2C increase in temperature since the start of the industrial age. To mitigate the impacts, it is crucial to limit warming to less than 2C or ideally 1.5C. Failure to do so could result in a loss of over 99% of warm water corals, causing a major disruption to the ocean ecosystem. Despite the goals set in the Paris agreement, our current trajectory puts us on track for 2-3C warming, passing the 1.5C limit by 2040.
Deforestation and habitat loss have fragmented habitats, making it difficult for species to migrate, mate, and feed. This often leads to isolation and increased risk of extinction. Areas experiencing habitat loss are also at the greatest risk for climate change related disasters, with the lowest biodiversity levels in sub-Saharan Africa, Northeastern India, and the American heartland. Latin America has seen a 94% decline in biodiversity, with freshwater species experiencing the greatest decline at 83%.
The acidification of the oceans has resulted in a sharp decline in coral populations since 1995. Coral bleaching has severely impacted shallow water reefs, some of the most productive ecosystems in the ocean, crucial for spawning and habitat for young marine life. Corals have the fastest decline in population according to the WWF.
The impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss also affect humans. Each year, we lose 10 million hectares of forests and rainforests serve as carbon sinks and their removal rapidly changes the local climate. Deforestation in South America and Central Africa has increased daytime temperatures by 8C and decreased rainfall by 15%. The concentration of rainforests in the global south and current removal could shift global precipitation patterns, leading to increased risks of drought, fire, and reduced rainfall.
To prevent further declines, we need to take a nature positive approach and go beyond just halting the changes. This involves increasing the amount of nature in populated areas and deforested areas for species to migrate and carry out their behaviors. Ecological corridors, linkage areas, and wildlife crossings can help implement this change.