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W.W.F. report: ‘Extra’ Earth needed at current consumption rates

W.W.F. report: ‘Extra’ Earth needed at current consumption rates
WWF: We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal.

"We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal. We are using 50 percent more resources that the Earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course, that number will grow fast - by 2030 even two planets will not be enough."

That's according to World Wide Fund for Nature director general Jim Leape in their latest "Living Planet Report" - a biennial document on the health of planet Earth.

The W.W.F. report measures changes in the health of the planet's biodiversity by tracking 9,000 populations of more than 2,600 species, called the Living Planet Index.

"This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet," said Jonathan Baillie, conservation program director of the Zoological Society of London.

This year's report shows an almost 30 percent decrease in the global index from 1970. Almost all Living Planet Indices - Tropical, Terrestrial, Marine, and Freshwater - showed negative trends within the 40-year period from 1970 to 2008.

Only the Temperate Living Planet Index and the Temperate Marine and Freshwater indices showed improvements, but only due to a recent baseline, differences in trajectory between taxonomic groups, notable conservation successes, and recent relative stability in species' populations. These do not necessarily denote a better living state than in the tropics.

Case studies for tigers, river dolphins, and the Atlantic cod were done, indicating rapid declines within the 70-75 percent range.

Ecological footprint: consumption vs. Earth's biocapacity

Aside from assessing the world's biodiversity, the report looked into the difference between humanity's consumption and the Earth's regenerative capacity, a measurement tool called our "ecological footprint." This is derived by calculating the area required to produce the resources people consume, the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area of forest required for sequestering carbon dioxide not absorbed by the ocean.

In 2008, our ecological footprint was 18.2 global hectares - where 1 global hectare represents a biologically productive area - or 2.7 global hectares per person. But the Earth's total biocapacity was only at 12 billion global hectares, or 1.8 per person. These numbers show that it would take one-and-a-half years for our planet to fully regenerate the resources people use in one year.

Population growth, especially in urban areas, will create the need to develop new and improved ways of managing natural resources, the report said. World population is seen to grow to 7.8-10.9 billion in 2050, and two out of three of these are in cities around the world.

Ecological footprint in higher-income countries are on average five times greater than those of lower- income nations. The top 10 countries per person are Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, United States of America, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland.

However, the opposite is evident in terms of biodiversity declines, with faster rates in lower-income countries - an indication that these countries are subsidizing the lifestyles of wealthier countries.

"Using ever more nature while having less is a dangerous strategy, yet most countries continue to pursue this path. Until countries begin tracking and managing their biocapacity deficits, they not only put the planet at risk, but more importantly, themselves," said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network.

The changing climate

Biodiversity and ecological footprint now stand in face of climate change. Average global surface temperature, the report says, was 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer during the first decade of the 21st century than during the first decade of the 20th century, with the most warming felt in the past 30 years.

"The past few decades have been warmer than any other comparable period for at least the last 400 years and possibly for the last 1,000 years or longer," said the U.S. National Research Council in 2010.

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning have started rising during the Industrial Revolution from the mid-1700's, and has risen from pre-industrial levels of 284 parts per million to 300 p.p.m. in the 1950's.

In 2011, carbon dioxide emissions are at a whopping 390.5 p.p.m. or more than 9 billion metric tons of carbon - the highest level in recorded history.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2007 that the warming is "strongly affecting" terrestrial biological systems, and observed changes in marine and freshwater ecological systems are "associated with rising water temperatures," as well as related "changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation."

On the other hand, data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization indicates that demand for food, feed and fibers could grow by 70 percent by 2050. The report said this has considerable implications for land use and natural ecosystems, and also for the size of humanity's ecological footprint. Calculations indicate that by that year, humanity's consumption would require an equivalent of 2.9 planets under a "business as usual" premise.

One Planet Perspective

The W.W.F. is calling on humanity to manage, govern and share natural capital within the earth's ecological boundaries, an idea it calls the "One Planet Perspective."

With that, they seek that we make better choices along the entire system of production and consumption, with the support of government, redirected financial flows and better resource governance.

These actions would help sever the ties of human development and unsustainable consumption and lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the maintenance of ecosystem integrity, and promotion of pro-poor growth and development, the report said.

"The One Planet perspective reminds us that our choices are highly interdependent," the report said. "Preserving natural capital, for example, will affect decisions and possible outcomes relating to the way we produce and consume."

Meanwhile, financial flows and governance structures will determine if our production and consumption choices will contribute to biodiversity conservation, ecosystem integrity, and food, water, and energy for all.

"We all face uncomfortable choices and trade-offs, but only by taking brave, informed decisions can healthy, sustainable and equitable human societies be ensured, now and into the future," the report said.(Nico P. Arboleda)

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