|LIVING PLANET REPORT 1999
Living Planet Report 1999
WWF aims to conserve nature and ecological processes by:
preserving genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity
ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable both now and in the longer term, for the benefit of all life on Earth
promoting actions to reduce to a minimum pollution and the wasteful exploitation and consumption of resources and energy.
WWF–World Wide Fund For Nature is the world’s largest and most experienced independent conservation organization.
It has 4.7 million regular supporters and a global network active in 96 countries.
WWF is known as the World Wildlife Fund in Canada and the United States of America.
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Let’s leave our children a living planet
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Inside Front Cover
Executive Summary 1
The Living Planet Index 2
Forest Ecosystems Index
Freshwater Ecosystems Index
Marine Ecosystems Index
Map 1: Threatened plant species 3
Forest Ecosystems 4
Original and current forest cover by region
Map 2: Loss of forest cover by country/territory 5
Freshwater Ecosystems 6
Freshwater species population trends
Freshwater Ecosystems Index
Declining amphibian populations
Map 3: Freshwater species population trends 7
Marine Ecosystems 8
Marine species population trends
Marine Ecosystems Index
Coral bleaching events
Map 4: Marine species population trends 9
Grain Consumption 10
Consumption by region
Map 5: Consumption by country/territory 11
Fish Consumption 12
Consumption by region
Map 6: Consumption by country/territory 13
Wood Consumption 14
Consumption by region
Map 7: Consumption by country/territory 15
Carbon Dioxide Emissions 16
Emissions by region
Map 8: Emissions by country/territory 17
Fertilizer Use 18
Use by region
Map 9: Use by country/territory 19
Cement Consumption 20
Consumption by region
Map 10: Consumption by country/territory 21
Technical Notes 22
Map 11: Countries and territories in the Living Planet Report 33
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© WWF International, 1999
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Front cover, from top to bottom (figure indicates use on other pages): WWF/Vin J. Toledo (10), John Maier/Still Pictures (20), Andre Bartschi/Still Pictures (4, 14), Norbert Wu/Still Pictures (8, 12), J. Frebet/Still Pictures (6), UNEP/Dave Richards/Topham (2), UNEP/Antonius Ablinger/Topham (16).
Published in 1999 by WWF–World Wide Fund For Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund), Gland, Switzerland. Any reproduction in full or in part of this publication must mention the title and credit the above-mentioned publisher as the copyright owner.
Executive Summary (p1)
The Living Planet Report is WWF’s attempt to provide a quantitative answer to the question: how fast is nature disappearing from the Earth? As a secondary ambition, the report also describes how human pressures on the natural environment are changing over time, and how these effects vary between countries.
This is the second edition of the Living Planet Report. Like the 1998 report, this one includes the Living Planet Index (LPI), an indicator of the overall state of the Earth’s natural ecosystems (pages 2–9). It also includes national and global data on human pressures on natural ecosystems arising from the consumption of natural resources and pollution (pages 10–21).
The LPI is an index which primarily measures abundance – the area of the world’s forests and the populations of different marine and freshwater species. Thus it is essentially measuring natural wealth and, particularly, how this natural wealth has changed over time. The LPI declined by 30 per cent from 1970 to 1995 – implying that the world has lost 30 per cent of its natural wealth in the space of one generation.
One main reason behind the decline in the world’s natural wealth is increasing human activity – higher economic activity and a larger population. The second part of the Living Planet Report looks at six causes of global environmental change. The first three relate to the consumption of renewable resources: grain and meat, fish and seafood, and wood and paper. These vital commodities are used directly by people for food, energy, or materials. The second three relate to impacts on the biosphere that are happening as a consequence of the consumption of food, energy, or materials: the use of artificial fertilizers, the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the consumption of cement. Globally, the consumption of resources and pollution of the natural environment are increasing, on average by around 2 per cent per year since 1970, although a reduction in the growth rate over the last decade may possibly be discerned. But, on the other hand, humanity may have already exceeded the sustainable level, for example in fish consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
WWF is particularly worried about the loss of biodiversity implied by the decline in the LPI and the environmental degradation caused by consumption and pollution. WWF believes that it is important to try to reverse these negative trends. Recommendations on what governments, businesses, and consumers can do, included in the second part of this report, are based on WWF policy and aim to slow down and eventually halt the degradation of the world’s natural environments.
The Living Planet Report makes use of the most reliable data available on the consumption of resources and pollution by 151 of the world’s countries and territories. The LPI and other global statistics in this report are based on original research. WWF will continue to improve the data in the Living Planet Report, which appears annually.
The Living Planet Index (pp2-3)
The Living Planet Index (LPI) is a measure of the natural wealth of the Earth’s forest, freshwater, and marine environments. Figure 1 shows that the index fell by approximately 30 per cent between 1970 and 1995, at an average rate of around 1 per cent per year.
The LPI is an aggregate of three different indicators of the state of natural ecosystems. These are: the area of natural forest cover around the world (Figure 2a); populations of freshwater species around the world (Figure 2b); populations of marine species around the world (Figure 2c).
Natural forest cover, not including plantations, has been declining steadily since the 1960s; about 10 per cent of the cover was lost between 1970 and 1995. But the decline of natural forest cover probably masks a steeper, but unquantified, loss of biodiversity and forest quality, particularly in temperate forests. The freshwater component of the index shows an average decline of about 45 per cent from 1970 to 1995 in 102 freshwater species. The marine component of the LPI shows a similar average decline of about 35 per cent in 102 marine species over the same period.
These figures are slightly different from those in the Living Planet Report 1998 (although within the 95 per cent confidence interval) because the underlying data set has been enlarged. However, they still need to be corroborated by further study and, especially, data on more species.
Many would see the rate at which species are going extinct as a more direct measure of the global loss of biodiversity. But nobody knows how many species are being lost each year, nor even the total number of species that exist. Biologists estimate that there are between 5 and 15 million species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms existing on the Earth today, of which only about 1.5 million have been described and named. The estimated total includes around 300,000 plant species, between 4 and 8 million insects, and about 50,000 vertebrate species (of which about 10,000 are birds and 4,000 are mammals).
To supplement the LPI’s global perspective, Map 1 and Figure 3 show a measure of the current state of biodiversity at the national level, based on the percentage of each country’s known plant species that are classified as globally vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. The data of course depend strongly on the thoroughness of the assessment. Map 1 shows that, to some extent, island countries tend to have higher percentages of threatened plants because of high levels of endemism, i.e. many of their species are found nowhere else in the world.
Forest Ecosystems (pp4-5)
Between 1970 and 1995, the world’s natural forest cover was reduced by some 10 per cent, from about 35 million square kilometres (km2) to around 32 million km2, a decrease of about 0.5 per cent per year (see Figure 4). This is equivalent to the loss every year of nearly 150,000 km2, an area larger than Bangladesh, Florida, or Greece. Today, about half the world’s forests are found in Europe, North America, and the Russian Federation and half are found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While the forested area of the temperate northern regions has remained constant since 1970, or increased slightly, the forested area of Africa, Asia, and Latin America has decreased by about 20 per cent.
However, northern forests have suffered a less obvious decline in quality. Much temperate forest, especially in Europe and North America, is not original but replacement forest, either regrowth or plantation, which neither supports the same levels of biodiversity nor performs the same ecological functions as old-growth forest. Many forests are fragmented into areas too small to support populations of species that require large contiguous blocks of natural habitat (see Figure 5). However, some forest types, such as the tropical dry forests of Africa, are naturally more patchy than others, so fragmentation is not always a good indicator of forest quality.
Original forest cover
Forests were lost in all regions and most countries of the world (Figures 5 and 6) long before 1970. In Europe (excluding the Russian Federation) and Asia, almost 70 per cent of the once-forested land has been cleared, primarily for agriculture and grazing. Today, largely intact tracts of undisturbed forest remain only in the boreal zones of the Russian Federation and Canada and, in the tropics, in the Amazon and the Congo basins.
The data in Figures 5 and 6 include an estimate of original forest cover. This is the area of forest that would exist under current climatic conditions, if there was no human interference. It is equivalent, hypothetically, to the maximum extent of forest at a point in time after the last glaciation and before the subsequent spread of agriculture, or around 6,000–8,000 years ago. In total, only half of the world’s original forest cover remains.
Freshwater Ecosystems (pp6-7)
Unlike forest ecosystems, it is not possible to indicate biological trends in freshwater ecosystems such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands by measuring changes in area. The Freshwater Ecosystems Index (Figure 2b) is based on the population trends of 102 freshwater vertebrate species. The species in the sample include every mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish species for which time-series population data could be obtained. The index indicates that freshwater species have, on average, declined by about 45 per cent since 1970.
There is a bias in the available data towards North American and European species. Since the publication of the first Living Planet Report in 1998, the Freshwater Ecosystems Index has been updated to include amphibian species, which were previously absent. The addition of 33 species of frogs, toads, and salamanders, however, did not make a significant difference to the overall trend. Fish species are still under-represented, and the available data on fish largely concern commercial species.
Map 3 shows an illustrative selection of species from the freshwater index and their approximate location in the world. All the species are listed in the technical notes on page 22.
Figure 7 shows whether population trends were positive, negative, or stable in a larger sample of 281 freshwater vertebrate species, including the 102 in the index. Since the 1970s, most freshwater species have been in decline.
Declining amphibian populations
Over the past decade, biologists have become alarmed by declines, including some extinctions, in a number of amphibian species all over the world. Many of the amphibian declines have been observed in national parks or nature reserves where their habitat is protected.
Numerous explanations of these declines have been proposed, such as water pollution and increased ultraviolet radiation, and evidence suggests that a number of forces are at work. For example, about 20 frog species in Australia, Panama, and the United States have been decimated by a disease caused by a previously unknown fungus, and the disappearance of the golden toad and other amphibians in Costa Rica has been attributed to climatic changes. Figure 8 shows an index of North American amphibian populations since 1975, based on available time-series data from the United States and Canada.
Marine Ecosystems (pp8-9)
The Marine Ecosystems Index (Figure 2c) shows the average change in population of 102 species of marine fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals from all around the world. It has declined by about 35 per cent since 1970. Map 4 shows an illustrative selection of species population trends from the marine index. All the species are listed in the technical notes on page 22. Figure 9 shows the simpler positive or negative growth trends in a larger sample of 132 marine species, broken down into the percentages that were either declining, stable, or increasing in each decade since 1970.
The 102 species include every marine vertebrate species for which information on population over the last few decades could be found. Although most of the species in the index are fish, there is some over-representation of birds and mammals relative to their numbers in the world’s oceans. Since the publication of the first Living Planet Report in 1998, more data have been incorporated on southern hemisphere and tropical fish stocks. However, little change resulted in the overall trend.
Coral reef bleaching events
Since 1980, marine biologists have reported an increase in the number of coral bleaching events in the world’s tropical oceans. Bleaching is a reaction of corals to many types of stress, most frequently a prolonged increase in sea temperature by 1ºC or 2ºC, which results in the loss of colour and photosynthesis. Recovery usually takes place within a few weeks, but in severe cases the coral dies.
About 100 major coral bleaching episodes were reported over the decade 1980–1989, compared with only 3 reported during the preceding 100 years. There have been around 180 more bleaching episodes during the period 1990–1998 (see Figure 10). One possible explanation of this dramatic increase is the rise in average sea surface temperatures that has occurred all around the world, part of the global warming trend. Another possible explanation is El Niño, a periodic warming of the eastern Pacific that normally occurs every five to seven years, but which has returned more frequently and strongly since 1980. The worst mass bleachings coincided with El Niño peaks.
The 1997–1998 bleaching event was the most severe yet. In the Indian Ocean, particularly on the reefs of the Chagos Archipelago, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania, and in the Arabian Gulf, there was near to 95 per cent mortality of shallow corals.
Grain consumption (pp10-11)
Grains such as wheat and rice supply most of the world’s dietary energy and protein. World grain consumption has more than doubled since 1960 (Figure 11), and the world average consumption per person has remained fairly constant at around 300 kilograms (kg) per person per year since the 1970s. However, about a third of the global grain harvest is fed to animals to produce meat and dairy products.
Grain production has kept up with the world’s growing population thanks to increasing yields per hectare of land, but yields are no longer increasing in many developed countries where additional inputs, such as fertilizer, have little effect on production. Moreover, agricultural land is being lost to urban development and soil degradation.
Consequently, uncultivated land is being cleared each year for growing crops or grazing animals, which is responsible for most deforestation in the tropics. The current harvest of about 330kg per person per year, distributed evenly, would be sufficient to provide a healthy diet for the world’s population. However, the industrialized countries consume around 500kg grain equivalent per person per year, mainly as meat.
Figures 12 and 13 and Map 5 show the consumption of grain-equivalent in each country and region, calculated as the consumption of grain consumed directly by humans, plus the amount consumed indirectly as meat, plus the amount used as seed, processed, and wasted. The data are corrected for exports and imports of grain and meat.
WWF recommendations to reduce pressure on ecosystems from grain and meat consumption:
• Protect soil from erosion and degradation caused by overgrazing or salinization. • Preserve existing croplands for agriculture, rather than urban and industrial development, road building, or non-essential crops such as tobacco. • Increase water-use efficiency of irrigated cropland to cut water losses and expand the area under irrigation, especially in Africa and Latin America. • Reduce dependence on pesticides and increase the use of biological control and pest-resistant varieties. • Cut meat and dairy product consumption, especially in Europe and North America.
Fish Consumption (pp12-13)
Fish was traditionally a cheap source of protein for millions living in the coastal regions of the world, but is increasingly becoming a luxury. Many fish stocks are in decline (see Map 4), especially in the North Atlantic. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 60 per cent of the world’s fisheries are exploited to the limit or overfished.
The total marine and inland fish catch reached a record level of about 95 million tonnes in 1996. In addition, fish farms supplied approximately 25 million tonnes, mainly from China and other Asian countries. Of the total, over a quarter was fed to animals as fishmeal or oil.
Although global fish consumption has tripled since 1960, consumption per person has remained at15–17kg per year since the 1970s. The FAO estimates that the world’s oceans can sustain a harvest of 82–100 million tonnes of fish a year. As the world’s population grows, maintaining the current per capita level of fish consumption will rely increasingly on aquaculture. Aquaculture, as practised today, is often unsustainable. Raising 1kg of shrimp or salmon in a fish farm requires about 5kg of feed in the form of fishmeal. There is also the ecological impact of the fish farm itself. Thailand has lost half its mangrove forests to shrimp ponds.
The consumption data used in Figures 15 and 16 and Map 6 include freshwater fish and marine fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods, but not processed products such as fishmeal. Farmed fish and seafood are included, but bycatch is not as this is difficult to attribute to a consumer country. The data are corrected for exports and imports.
WWF recommendations to reduce pressure on fisheries:
• Reduce fisheries bycatch – the incidental killing of unwanted fish and other marine wildlife that accounts for more than a quarter of the world catch. • Eliminate destructive fishing practices, such as cyanide and blast fishing on coral reefs. • Cut the tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies that contribute to overfishing. • Promote market incentives for sustainable fishing, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, an initiative to label seafood from independently certified, well-managed sources. • Designate no-fishing zones to safeguard marine ecosystems and to give depleted fish populations a chance to recover.
Wood Consumption (pp14-15)
World wood consumption has increased by two-thirds since 1960 (Figure 17). In 1996, consumption of fuelwood, industrial roundwood, woodpulp, and paper globally was about 3.4 billion m3 per year. Unlike the consumption of grain and fish, wood consumption per person has decreased slightly over the last five to ten years from about 0.65 m3 per year to about 0.58 m3 per year, partly due to the more efficient use of wood and greater recycling of paper. Fuelwood consumption per person has remained almost constant at about 0.33 m3 per year.
Slightly more than half the world’sannual use of wood is for fuel. Wood is the most important energy source for 2 billion people who have limited access to commercial energy supplies such as electricity. Africa, therefore, has a relatively high per capita consumption of wood (Figure 18).
The world’s forests are currently diminishing in area and biological quality, partly because of the high consumption of wood and paper. Even so, the world’s forests, if managed well, could provide more than enough wood to cover current use. On the basis of the world’s current forest cover and its potential sustainable yield, and setting aside 10 per cent of each forest type for protection, total annual yield could be 4 billion m3, or 0.67 m3 per person per year.
Figures 18 and 19 and Map 7 are calculated in cubic metres from data on national production, imports and exports of wood and wood products. Pulp and paper consumption, which is measured in tonnes, has been converted back into cubic metres of wood raw material equivalent.
WWF recommendations to reduce pressure on forests:
• Establish a network of ecologically representative protected areas covering at least 10 per cent of each forest type. • Ensure forests outside protected areas are well managed according to standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council. • Develop ecologically and socially appropriate forest restoration programmes. • Reduce forest damage from pollution and climate change. • Use forest goods and services within the regenerative capacity of the forest estate and eliminate the wasteful consumption of wood.