Third of all nature lost in 25 years

A THIRD of the natural world has been destroyed by human activity in the past 25 years, the greatest period of destruction since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said yesterday.

Animals and plants have suffered a drop of more than 30 per cent in their global abundance in forests, freshwaters and the seas, WWF said, unveiling a Living Planet Index, which it hopes will become the Dow Jones or the Footsie of the world's environmental health.

The index resembles a bear market lasting a whole generation. Put together with virtually all the available data on declining species, and taking 1970 as a baseline year and giving it a value of 100, it had dropped to 68 by 1995 and is still dropping.

Although there are several detailed status reports on world resources, produced by the United Nations and other agencies, this is the first time an attempt has been made to measure the change over time of the global environment as a whole.

"In spite of the uncertainties, it is safe to say that the period since 1970 has been the most destructive in the history of the natural world since the great extinction 65 million years ago, when the meteor hit the Caribbean and wiped out the dinosaurs," said Jorgen Randers, deputy director of WWF International.

The index, which the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge and the New Economics Foundation helped WWF to compile, is an aggregate figure of deterioration in world forests and marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Forest decline has been measured by loss of forest cover; the deterioration in oceans, lakes and rivers measured by declines in the species they support.

The index shows loss of abundance in existing species rather than extinctions, because the true number of species in the world is not accurately known. Data for nearly 350 kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been used.

The index for forests shows a fall of about 10 per cent in the period 1970-1995, that for oceans about 30 per cent, and surprisingly, that for freshwater ecosystems the worst fall of all, at about 50 per cent.

"We wanted to know how fast nature is disappearing from the globe, in spite of our efforts to the contrary," Mr Randers said. The 32 per cent decline in a single generation was "chilling", he added.

WWF freely admits that there is an uncertainty range of 10 to 15 per cent either side in their figures, but believes this will diminish as more data become available. In future the index will be published every year.

The figure for forests may hide a steeper decline in environmental quality, as loss of forest area is not necessarily proportional to loss of forest wildlife. Furthermore, the temperate forests of Europe and North America have stayed stable during the period, or even increased in some areas with planting, while tropical rainforests have suffered severely.

"We have lost about 45 per cent of the world's tropical forest, probably nearly 50 per cent," said Sir Ghillean Prance, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, west London, who welcomed the publication of the index yesterday.

"The figure of 30 per cent decline for the world as a whole is truly frightening," he added.

The Living Planet Index also attempts to measure the pressure of human consumption of natural resources which is the cause of environmental decline. Consumption has gone up even more than nature has gone down: using 1970 once again as a baseline year, with a value of 100, global consumption stood at 163 by 1995.

More vividly, the index establishes a country-by-country "consumption pressure rating" for 152 nations. "We wanted to show in just one number what a country's burden on the environment per person is," said Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the report.

The rating is based on six factors: a country's consumption of grain, fish and wood; its consumption of cement (indicating growing urbanisation); its emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and motor vehicles; and its use of fresh water.

Some surprising results are thrown up: on a per capita basis, Norway is shown as having the heaviest consumption "footprint" on the globe, while Britain is shown as having the lightest among the nations of Western Europe.

These are anomalies caused by the use of only six sectors (the only ones in which data for all countries were available). Norway has a low population, an enormous oil industry and a big fish catch; Britain is an established nation with its infrastructure largely built, which uses less cement than others.

WWF is confident, however, that as more data are included, the results will be less anomalous, and says that the broad outlines of the consumption index are robust: the consumption footprint of Western Europe is more than three times that of Africa and more than twice that of Asia.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Scientists believe Mercury is coated in billions of years’ worth of carbon dust, after being ‘dumped on’ by passing comets
science
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executives

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of Europe's leading prov...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - East Region - OTE £45,000

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor