This summer was the hottest on record in Europe, with blistering heat waves and wildfires accelerating emissions to their highest in 15 years. Kenya is suffering from the worst drought it has seen in over 40 years, while Pakistan is dealing with devastating floods, killing thousands and displacing millions.
Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has reached a six-year high and tropical storms are battering the Caribbean. Overconsumption by wealthy nations is causing suffering to the most vulnerable people on the planet, and nature is at crisis point.
Unfortunately, that trend extends to the animal kingdom. Posted on Thursday, WWF’s Living Planet report captures a shocking drop in monitored wildlife populations around the world: an average of 69 percent in less than a lifetime. Populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish are declining.
The world’s tropical regions, some of the most biodiverse places on the planet, are seeing the populations of their species plummet, with an average drop of 94 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1970. Over the same period, the wildlife populations in Africa plummeted 66 percent, while Asia Pacific saw a 55 percent drop.
Meanwhile, freshwater populations have seen an average drop of 83 percent. Our rivers, lakes and wetlands, the lifeblood of all human society, are dying. The health of these freshwater ecosystems is essential for one in 10 animals, but also for the eight billion humans who depend on them for everything from agriculture and industry to our drinking water.
These shocking drops are a symptom of the continued global neglect of biodiversity. It is already predicted that even if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), much of the Amazon and Africa could lose half to three-quarters (PDF) of its biodiversity.
However, such a catastrophic prospect would affect all of us, be it our social stability or individual well-being and health. It also undermines the basic human rights of those who are disproportionately affected in the Global South.
It even affects us economically: WWF’s Global Futures study estimated that declining natural assets will cost the world at least $406 billion a year, adding up to nearly $9 trillion by 2050, roughly equivalent to the combined economies of the UK, France, India and Brazil.
Despite governments signaling that they are prioritizing nature, we are currently seeing a lack of political support and high-level leadership to address the biodiversity crisis. An impressive 40,000 people, including 120 world leaders, attended the 26th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow last year, and some big promises were made. However, in the run-up to the 15th meeting on biodiversity of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in December, countries like Brazil continue to destroy natural habitats.
We need countries to come together to secure an ambitious agreement on biodiversity this December. It must be able to drive immediate action on the ground. To ensure a healthy and sustainable future for people and wildlife, this must include the overarching goal of ensuring a nature-positive world by 2030, meaning that we end the decade with more nature than in 2020, not less.
Also important is the question of who is responsible for paying for the international protection of biodiversity. The consumption habits of rich countries are disproportionately driving nature loss, so the world’s richest nations have a duty to provide financial support to developing countries.
Our economies must be transformed so that natural resources and nature’s services, such as clean air and water, climate regulation or food pollination, are properly valued. Our societies and industries must also shift towards sustainable consumption and production habits, particularly when it comes to food.
One of the most magnificent things about nature is its regenerative capacity. It bounces if we let it.
Some losses seem irreversible. The ship sturgeon, for example, was recently declared extinct in the European Danube River. However, we have the solutions to reverse the loss of biodiversity and the science and technology to help many other endangered species, be it the mountain gorilla, loggerhead turtle or common crane, to flourish once more.
We can see where deforestation is happening in real time via satellites, we can predict which areas are most important to conserve, and we can use models to ensure the most effective conservation efforts are carried out.
A safer and more sustainable future for people and nature is still within our grasp, provided political and corporate leaders step up to build a nature-positive society for all.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.