TORONTO — A new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows the global wildlife population has fallen by two-thirds in less than 50 years, while at-risk species in Canada have seen their populations decline by 42 per cent.
The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020, published Friday, analyzed nearly 21,000 populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles and found a 68 per cent drop in monitored animal species from 1970 to 2016.
James Snider, WWF-Canada’s vice-president of ccience, knowledge and innovation, told CTV News Channel these numbers are “staggering.”
“For us, this is growing evidence to show that we are in the midst of a catastrophe in many ways in terms of the collapse of wildlife around the world,” Snider said in an interview on Sunday.
There are a number of factors leading to the decline of wildlife, however, Snider said that human activities and the loss of habitat are some of the report’s main concerns, particularly the conversion of native habitats such as forests, grasslands, and mangroves into agricultural systems.
“It’s important to note that that’s both the cause of wildlife and biodiversity decline, as well as of course a major cause of the emissions that we’re seeing that are actually causing climate change,” Snider said.
“As much as 30 per cent of our total emissions are from that land use and land conversion,” he added.
According to the report, humans are now using more of the Earth’s resources than can be replenished with changes in land and sea use. Habitat loss and degradation, species overexploitation, invasive species and disease, pollution, and climate change are all contributing to the fall in population.
The report found that animal populations most affected were those in Latin America and the Caribbean with a decline of 94 per cent. Global freshwater species have also been disproportionally impacted, the report says, declining 84 per cent on average.
“Why does this matter? It matters because biodiversity is fundamental to human life on Earth, and the evidence is unequivocal — it is being destroyed by us at a rate unprecedented in history,” the report read.
While the report says nature is being destroyed and changed at an extraordinary rate, modelling predicts that the declining trends can be flattened and reversed with “urgent and unprecedented actions.”
These actions include transforming food production and consumption, aggressive movement to tackle climate change, and investments that conserve, protect, and restore nature.
The United Nations is expected to release a more detailed report next week about the state of nature globally. Snider said he expects the UN’s report will only echo the findings of the WWF.
He added that the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting at the end of September will be an opportunity for global leaders to “come together and really chart a path ahead” in helping wildlife populations.
“What will we be doing in the coming years to take meaningful action to reverse these trends in wildlife loss that we’re seeing around the world and to actively be working to fight climate change? … The next few weeks should be very telling to see which countries are willing to step forward and take a leadership role,” Snider said.
WILDLIFE IN CANADA
Despite the country’s vast, natural landscapes, Snider noted that Canada is also seeing a decline in wildlife population.
The WWF released a Canada-specific report in early September reporting that at-risk species of global conservation concern have seen their Canadian populations decline by an average of 42 per cent in the last 50 years.
“Canada is not only home to wildlife of national conservation concern — it also hosts species of global conservation importance. Declines of species of global conservation concern in Canada magnify our international responsibility for their recovery,” the report read.
The report also found that Canadian species listed as at-risk nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada — the scientific body that determines a species’ risk of extinction — have declined by 59 per cent.
The Canadian species facing the greatest decline include the wood turtle, leatherback sea turtle, collard pika, burrowing owl, Atlantic walrus and North Atlantic right whale.
In the report, the WWF said Canada is not doing enough to protect its endangered species. Snider explained that Canadian populations of endangered animals face multiple threats, including pollution, habitat loss and now, climate change.
“In Canada, we know for at least our at-risk species that those species are now facing on average five different threats at a given moment, and one of them increasingly is that of climate change,” he said. “So climate change is now actually a driver in of itself of biodiversity loss.”
Snider said the problem is that Canadian intervention plans typically only focus on one of these threats at a time. The WWF is calling on the federal government to change this to a multi-faceted approach to ensure the long-term survival of endangered species.
The report also found that Indigenous-managed lands often better support at-risk species, and said those communities should be consulted and supported moving forward when protecting wildlife.
“Certainly here in Canada we believe that there’s a role of what are called nature-based climate solutions, how we can really, some would say ‘put nature to work’ to both provide the habitat for wildlife and at-risk species, but as well in terms of actually fighting climate change,” Snider said.
Snider says the drastic numbers in both reports highlight how society is at a “pivotal moment” in animal conservation.
“There’s a real urgency in terms of where we are right now at the decade ahead to make a meaningful difference, both in terms of reversing the trends and the wildlife loss that we’re seeing globally, but also for climate change,” he said.