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Dear David,

The overexploitation of ecological resources by humanity is directly contributing to a 67 percent plunge in wild vertebrate populations scientists forecast for the 50-year period ending in 2020, according to a new report by WWF in collaboration with Global Footprint Network.

The top threats to species are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss, degradation, and overexploitation of wildlife, according to WWF's biennial Living Planet Report, to which Global Footprint Network has been providing its Ecological Footprint analysis since 2000. Global Footprint Network's data shows humanity is currently using the resources of 1.6 planets to provide the goods and services we demand each year while we only have one Earth.

Under a business-as-usual path for the underlying drivers of resource consumption, increasing human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems is projected to exceed their regenerative capacity by about 75 percent by 2020, according to Global Footprint Network.

"Changing this course will require considerable shifts in technology, infrastructure, and behavior," said Mathis Wackernagel, Co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network. "The good news is that we know what we need to do, and the technologies that can help us get there already exist. The only thing missing is the public will to embark on the path."

Global Ecological Footprint Forecast to 2020

"The more we continue to exceed Earth’s limits, the more damage we do to our own future," said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. "Biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food, and climate services that they provide us.”

Global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles have already declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, according to the report. This places the world on a trajectory of a potential two-thirds decline within a span of the half century ending in 2020.

"Human behavior continues to drive the decline of wildlife populations globally, with particular impact in freshwater habitats," said Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, which provides the Living Planet Index in the report.

Unequal Demand

All countries are not contributing equally to the global demand on nature. The average per capita Ecological Footprint in high-income countries is almost three times that of middle-income countries, and about six times that of low-income countries. Carbon emissions made up more than half of the Footprint of high- and middle-income countries, while biomass-based components (demand for cropland, grazing land, forest, and fishing grounds) still represented the largest Footprint share for low-income countries in 2012.

Ecological Footprint for High-, Middle-, and Low-income Countries
Also, patterns of consumption vary between countries, even among those whose Ecological Footprints stand at comparable levels. While populations in China and Argentina, for example, place roughly equivalent pressures on the environment to fulfill their consumption, consumption activities vary greatly. In Argentina, food accounts for slightly more than half of the Ecological Footprint, due to high levels of meat consumption. By contrast, in China, consumption related to housing accounts for a large share due to China’s high reliance of fossil fuels for heating.

Ecological Footprint Breakdown by Consumption Activities

Another Path to 2020

Fortunately, 2020 is also a year of great promise. Commitments made under the Paris climate deal will kick in, and the first environmental actions under the new United Nations sustainable development plan are due in that same year. If we adhere to the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, carbon emissions will need to gradually fall to zero before 2050.

"Transitioning to a carbon-free economy will require a new way of living. The new lifestyle will come with many benefits, including deploying and enjoying innovative technologies that create new jobs, as well as developing a just and prosperous future," said Wackernagel.

Additional Resources:

Free detailed Ecological Footprint data for nearly 200 nations:

Full report (PDF):

Report summary (PDF):

Personal Footprint calculator:

Interactive Footprint maps:

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