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WWF’s Living Planet Report reveals two-thirds decline in wildlife populations on average since 1970

Causes include same environmental destruction - such as deforestation, unsustainable agriculture and the illegal wildlife trade - which contributes to virus outbreaks like COVID-19 • Freshwater biodiversity is declining far faster than that in our oceans or forests - 84 percent is the average decline in populations of freshwater species since 1970.

BELGRADE / LJUBLJANA / PODGORICA / PRISTINA / SARAJEVO / SKOPJE / ZAGREB – Global populations* of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century due in large part to the very same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020, released today. 

The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the Living Planet Index (LPI), which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance. The LPI, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), shows that factors believed to increase the planet’s vulnerability to pandemics - including land-use change and the use and trade of wildlife - were also some of the drivers behind the 68% average decline in global vertebrate species populations between 1970 and 2016. However, the main cause of the dramatic decline is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food. 

“The Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International. “We can’t ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure.”

Freshwater biodiversity at biggest risk 

Freshwater biodiversity is declining faster than any other. Since 1900 we have lost more than 70% of global wetlands, while the populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84% - more than those in oceans or forests. The world’s rivers are being suffocated by existing and new infrastructure, consumption of water is increasing each year, freshwater fisheries are being depleted, and livelihoods of millions of people are at risk. The situation is not different in our region.

“Unlike most of Europe, our region is still rich in biodiversity. It is home to the last free-flowing rivers on the continent, diverse wildlife, and pristine nature. However, nature in Southeast Europe is suffering under the same pressures as the rest of the world. Small hydropower plants and dams ravage our rivers, natural resources are overexploited, and wildlife has to deal with ever-reducing habitats and poaching”, said Zoran Mateljak, freshwater program manager at WWF Adria.

“We are facing global challenges, yet we can still act. If we change our attitude to nature and development, start focusing on nature-based solutions, advocate for a sustainable green economic recovery, restore and protect our rivers and wild places, preserve habitats to support vast biodiversity, reduce our consumption, and insist on justice and equality, we can build a future where people and nature can thrive.”

By increasing freshwater biodiversity we are supporting human health in a wide variety of ways - from reducing the risk of new diseases to providing food for countless people. Current trends suggest that we need to act now. To bend the curve of freshwater biodiversity loss, we need to implement a six-step emergency plan. This includes allowing rivers to flow more naturally, reducing pollution, protecting critical wetland habitats, ending overfishing and unsustainable sand mining, controlling invasive species, and safeguarding and restoring connectivity.

Food production and consumption key drivers of biodiversity loss

Similar emergency plan is needed for all global biodiversity. Stabilizing and reversing the loss of nature will only be possible if bolder, more ambitious conservation efforts are embraced and transformational changes made to the way we produce and consume food. Changes needed include making food production and trade more efficient and ecologically sustainable, reducing waste, and favouring healthier and more environmentally-friendly diets. 

The global decline of biodiversity is contributing to increasing global inequalities, deepening the North-South divide and increasing the vulnerability of communities most affected by the loss of nature. Therefore, any actions aimed at bending the curve of biodiversity loss need to address the underlying social and economic issues perpetuated by the decline. We need to shift towards a just and sustainable food production and economy, fair labor, reduction of waste, equal access to natural resources, and integrated approach to nature restoration and conservation. Implementing these measures together will allow the world to more rapidly alleviate pressures on wildlife habitats. On the contrary, if the world carries on with “business as usual”, rates of biodiversity loss seen since 1970 will continue over the coming years.

World leaders need to act now

The Living Planet Report 2020 launches less than a week before the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when leaders are expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNGA 2020 will bring together world leaders, businesses and civil society to develop the post-2020 framework for action for global biodiversity and thus marks a milestone moment to set the groundwork for an urgently needed New Deal for Nature and People.

Lambertini said: “If we are to have any hope of restoring nature to provide current and future generations of people with what they need, then world leaders must - in addition to conservation efforts - make our food system more sustainable and take deforestation out of supply chains. With leaders gathering virtually for the UN General Assembly in a few days’ time, this research can help us secure a New Deal for Nature and People which will be key to the long-term survival of wildlife, plant and insect populations and the whole of nature, including humankind.”

The whole Living Planet Report 2020 and its summary can be reached at The official Living Planet Report website is livingplanet.panda.org.

Notes to Editors
  • *Using the data from 4,392 species and 20,811 populations, the 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68 per cent decline in monitored populations. The percentage change in the index reflects the average proportional change in animal population sizes tracked over 46 years - not the number of individual animals lost.
  • The LPR 2020 is the thirteenth edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication. 
Living Planet Report 2020 cover

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