Living Planet Report 2014

The Living Planet Report for 2014 has just been published, and it makes for depressing reading.

Developed by the WWF in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Global Footprint Network (GFN), and the Water Footprint Network (WFN), the Report is stated to be ‘the world’s leading, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity’. Its 176 pages of strong, well-documented, and ultimately gloomy environmental science.

The Report makes the point that ecosystems (and the ecosystem services they provide) sustain societies, and that societies create economies. Economies do not exist outside societies, they are a product — merely a consequence — of the evolution and development of societies. If the earth’s ecosystems collapse there will be a devastating effect on human societies, and not just on disadvantaged societies. Western societies will also be badly affected. And even countries with the best economies in the world will not be immune to the damage.


 Living Planet Report, Figure 1 (© 2014 WWF. All rights reserved.)

What does the Report say?

What are some of the important figures in the Report?

  1. The Report’s headline measure of biodiversity health, WWF/ZSL’s Living Planet Index (LPI), shows a decrease of over 50% from 1970 to 2010. The LPI is calculated from trends in nearly 10,400 individual populations of over 3,000 species of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and freshwater and marine fish), and details of how the LPI is calculated are found in the Report. What this translates to in plain terms is that vertebrate populations have declined to roughly half the size they were 40 years ago on average;
  2. Populations of freshwater vertebrates declined more rapidly (a 76% decrease in 40 years) than those of marine vertebrates (39 per cent) and terrestrial vertebrates (39 per cent). This very significant decrease in freshwater vertebrate numbers is largely due to complex interactions between habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, pollution, alien invader animal and plant species, and in some instances overextraction of water for irrigation;
  3. The GFN’s Ecological Footprint indicates that 1.5 Earths’ worth of natural resources are currently required to meet humanity’s demands on nature each year. These demands include renewable resources used for food, fibre and fuel, land used for development and agriculture, and forests and woodlands necessary as carbon sinks (Global Footprint Network 2014, National Footprint Accounts, 2014 Edition). Our ecological bank balance has been in the red for over 40 years, and worse, the effects of this are felt disproportionately by non-industrialised countries. In addition, we are making the needs of future generations difficult or impossible to meet. This is neither sustainable nor equitable;
  4. The WFN’s detailed country-by-country water statistics (Water Footprint Network 2014, WaterStat database) indicates that agriculture accounts for over 90% of the global water footprint, and that more than a third of the world’s population subsist in river basins which have a severe scarcity of water for one month or more of each year. This translates to some 2.4 billion human beings experiencing chronic water shortages every year, and again, the poorest nations and future generations will disproportionately bear this burden.

This, as I have intimated, depresses the hell out of me. Are any of these issues, or (optimistically) all of them, capable of some sort of resolution at a global scale?

A plan for the future

WWF has a plan. Its their One Planet Perspective, and it looks like this:


 Living Planet Report, Figure 59 (© 2012 WWF. All rights reserved.)

 This means that we, as a global community must, as a priority, insist on the following (please see the Report for more detail):

  1. All governments must actively work towards preserving our Earth’s remaining natural capital. We must actively try to restore the ecosystems we have damaged, stop destroying listed or important habitats, and expand protected areas (such as national and marine parks);
  2. Reduce inputs and waste (a big step would be to institutionalise McDonough and Braungart’s cradle-to-cradle concepts — excellent book, IMHO), sustainably manage natural resources, and support and increase renewable energy mechanisms;
  3. Individually, use sustainable energy and shop for local healthy food to eat.

The Report also suggests two essential enabling conditions:

  1. Global financial flows should be rechanneled. Nature must be fairly valued, total environmental and social costs must be completely and fairly accounted for, critical conservation efforts must be supported. and other conservation, sustainable resource management, and innovation initiatives should be supported (for example, most cost-benefit analyses are political documents aimed at supporting a predetermined position rather than being used as evidence to inform decision-making);
  2. There should be equitable resource governance. Available resources should be shared (remember, the global food crisis is not a production problem, but a distribution problem), and governments must make fair and ecologically informed choices and measure success beyond the blunt and misleading hammer that is Gross Deoestic Product (GDP).

I’m not hopeful these will ever happen, even if there is a global ecological collapse.

To reinforce the issue, here’s a summary diagram from 2013 (click to view full size). Its not reassuring, and 2014 will be worse:



 (© 2013 WWF. All rights reserved.)

For the final word, please listen to Marco Lambertini, the Director General of WWF International:

We need leadership for change. Sitting on the bench waiting for someone else to make the first move doesn’t work. Heads of state need to start thinking globally; businesses and consumers need to stop behaving as if we live in a limitless world. 

It’s the Dirty Harry Scenario, multiplied by ten or a thousand or so. Dirty Harry (totally owned by Clint Eastwood) grits his teeth and spits out, ‘You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk??’

I’m not feeling lucky. How about you?

3 Responses to “Living Planet Report 2014”

  1. Chris Mawer says:

    Greetings from Australia, and many thanks for your kind comments!

  2. Chris Mawer says:

    Hi William,

    Thanks for your comment. I wish I could offer some degree of comfort, but I’m not optimistic.

    And thanks for the cartoon link. I hadn’t seen that one before, but it is grimly humorous. Cheers!