Latin America wildlife declines by more than 80% in 40 years
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Latin America wildlife declines by more than 80% in 40 years

Last week the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released its biannual Living Planet Report 2014, revealing some shocking numbers on global wildlife loss.

In its most comprehensive edition yet, the report tracked 10,000 different vertebrate species in its Living Planet Index, and found a 52 percent worldwide decline in birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians between the years of 1970 and 2010. The biggest loss was among freshwater species, which experienced a decline of 76 percent.

Regionally, losses were most dramatic in the tropics, with Latin America seeing the steepest decline — a gut-wrenching 83 percent drop in species. According to the report, some of the main factors contributing to wildlife decline are pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and climate change.

The index also found a correlation between poverty and biodiversity loss, as tropical regions like southern Asia and Latin America, which are home to many of the world’s poorest countries, are also some of the most affected by wildlife loss. In contrast, high-income countries actually demonstrated a 10 percent increase in biodiversity.

Domestic policy also plays an important role in encouraging (or discouraging) environmental protections and preserving biodiversity. Recent elections in both Peru and Brazil, which contain large parts of the Amazon rainforest (one of the world’s most biodiverse areas), have included an emphasis — though some say not enough — on environmental issues.

Peru’s regional and local elections on October 5 were greatly influenced by issues surrounding mining projects, particularly in the northern part of the country. Concerns focused on water supplies and the fact that the mines have not benefitted residents of the local agricultural communities where they are located.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, surprise candidate Marina Silva — a former Minister of the Environment and environmental activist — fell short of expectations in the first round of voting, leaving incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and challenger Aécio Neves to face each other in a run-off on October 26.

Brazilian activists have complained that environmental issues have received less attention in the 2014 election than in previous ones, despite the galvanizing run of Marina Silva. The campaigns of all three major candidates were also criticized for ignoring the crippling drought that has hit the country in recent months.

Brazil, whose Footprint and HDI [Human Development Index] values are slightly higher than China’s, has achieved a decent standard of living as measured by the HDI (though its IHDI [Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index] score is lower) while barely increasing its per capita Ecological Footprint over the last 50 years.

—Living Planet Report 2014

The Living Planet Report also measured humanity’s Ecological Footprint, which compares human demands on nature with the Earth’s capacity to regenerate and provide. This metric is calculated by estimating how much land and water an individual, population or activity requires in order to produce what it consumes as well as absorb the waste it generates. In general, despite the rapid decline in biodiversity, pollution and deforestation occurring in poorer tropical countries, the overall Ecological Footprints produced by these countries were found to be more or less sustainable.

According to the report, changes in population and consumption are the primary factors driving Ecological Footprint growth in Latin America. It should be no surprise, then, that Brazil, Latin America’s most populous country and largest economy should produce the region’s largest footprint. However, when Brazil’s per capita footprint is calculated, it drops from 4th in the world to 53rd.

The honor of the largest per capita footprints go instead to wealthy industrialized countries like the United States and the wealthy oil states of the Middle East, including Kuwait (1), Qatar (2) and the United Arab Emirates (3), which top the list of the world’s biggest consumers and wasters of resources.