Catastrophic Decline In Freshwater Biodiversity Requires Urgent Global Action

10 Sep 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
GENEVA, Switzerland

Humanity’s destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts on wildlife populations, human health and all aspects of our lives, reveals WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020. This loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue but a development, economic, global security, ethical and moral one too. 
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 that is contributing to the emergence of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the report finds. Freshwater biodiversity is declining far faster than that in our oceans or forests. Almost 90 Percent of global wetlands have been lost since 1700 and global mapping has recently revealed the extent to which humans have altered millions of kilometres of rivers. These changes have had a profound impact on freshwater biodiversity and numbers of population trends for monitored freshwater species are falling steeply. Most of the declines are seen in freshwater amphibians, reptiles and fishes. And they’re seen all regions, particularly Latin America and the Caribbean.

Wildlife in freshwater habitats suffers starkest decline.

The Living Planet Index, one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity, has tracked almost 21,000 populations of more than 4,000 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2016.

It shows that wildlife populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84 Percent. This is the starkest average population decline in any “biome”, which is a community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in.

This is equivalent to 4 Percent per year since 1970. One example is the spawning population of the Chinese sturgeon in China’s Yangtze river, which declined by 97 Percent between 1982 and 2015 due to the damming of the waterway.

Stuart Orr, Leader of WWF’s Freshwater Practice, told OOSKAnews, “This catastrophic 84 Percent collapse in freshwater biodiversity is a clarion call for urgent global action because it proves that we are destroying the freshwater ecosystems that all our societies and economies depend on. “Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands are our life support systems. They provide us with water, food, medicines and livelihoods as well as protect our cities and communities from extreme floods, droughts and storms. We cannot survive, let alone thrive without them, but they are the most threatened ecosystems on earth.”

But this decline in freshwater biodiversity is reversible

Humanity’s influence on the decline of nature is so great that scientists believe we are entering
 a new geological epoch called the “Anthropocene”, the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

“But we can halt and then reverse the decline in freshwater biodiversity. We don't need to conjure up new solutions, we need to urgently use scale up solutions that exist,” Stuart Orr continued.

“Governments need to implement the Emergency Recovery Plan for freshwater biodiversity; businesses need to adopt water stewardship; and investors need to redirect their money into sustainable bankable water projects that provide a return while also helping to restore freshwater ecosystems and build climate resilience.”

Biodiversity is key to the regulation of our climate, water quality, pollution, pollination services, flood control and storm surges.

“Companies and financial institutions cannot turn a blind eye to these latest shocking statistics. Collapsing freshwater biodiversity shows that our rivers, lakes and wetlands are dying - as short-sighted decision-makers continue to dam, drain and pollute them,” added Stuart Orr. “All of us will end up paying the price unless we act together to halt the losses.”

Concerted global action on nature is now critical

The report’s 10 September launch is less than a week away from 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.

“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,” commented Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.

Nature underpins all dimensions of human health and contributes on non-material levels that are central to people’s quality of life and cultural integrity, from inspiration and learning, physical and psychological experiences, to shaping our identities.

The report also includes pioneering modelling, which shows that without further efforts to counteract habitat loss and degradation, global biodiversity will continue to decline.

“A New Deal has never been needed more,” added Lambertini.