Living Planet Report 2014: when a planet is not enough

Written by Chiara Crognoletti

We have only one planet, but we would need one and a half to sustain our current ecological footprint. This is the recent result highlighted in the Living Planet Report 2014, the annual analysis on the health of our planet published by WWF.

When we speak of ecological footprint, we mean the land and marine area necessary to regenerate the resources used by human beings and to absorb their waste. For more than 40 years, humanity’s demand on nature has exceeded what our planet can replenish. This year, the Earth Overshoot Day was 19th August: it means that in the first 8 months of 2014, we consumed the resources produced by our planet for the whole year and after that day we began borrowing from future generations.
Another figure that jumps out is the path of the Living Planet Index over the last 40 years: this measure shows the trends in thousands of vertebrate species populations, which declined by 52% between 1970 and 2010. In other words, the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, about half the size it was 40 years ago.
However, not all the countries have the same ecological footprint: poorer countries have the smallest one, but they suffer higher losses in biodiversity, since high-income countries rely on their biocapacity to support their lifestyles. As a consequence, high-income countries show an increase in biodiversity, while low-income countries show dramatic and marked declines.
When considering this data, we should remember a very well-known proverb: We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. World population is growing at a fast rate and it is projected to reach 9.2 billion in 2050. Forest ecosystems provide shelter, livelihoods, water, food and fuel security to more than 2 billion people. Food production accounts for around 70% of water use and 30% of energy use globally. One-third of the planet’s major cities depend on nature reserves for their drinking water. Global freshwater demand is projected to exceed current supply by more than 40%. At the moment 768 million people don’t have a safe, clean water supply.
These are all good reasons why we should care for our planet and we cannot ignore our impact. And maybe nothing is (still) lost: WWF’s “One Planet Perspective” outlines better choices for managing, using and sharing natural resources within the planet’s limitations. 

Here are its 5 points:
Preserve natural capital: restore damaged ecosystems and expand protected areas;
Produce better: reduce inputs and waste, manage resources sustainably, scale-up renewable energy production;
Consume more wisely: through low-Footprint lifestyles and sustainable energy use;
Redirect financial flows: value nature, account for environmental and social costs, support and reward conservation, sustainable resource management and innovation;
Equitable resource governance: share available resources, make fair and ecologically informed choices, measure success beyond GDP.
I would like to conclude with the encouraging words of Marco Lambertini, General Director of WWF International: he states that “we are all connected – and collectively, we have the potential to find and adopt the solutions that will safeguard the future of this, our one and only planet”.