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Urgent action is required if losses to nature are to be reversed, WWF report shows


I've got a scary fact for you. The populations of most major animal groups have plummeted. That includes mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish. They've dropped by an average of nearly 70% since 1970. That's according to a new report from the conservation group the World Wildlife Fund. The report analyzed vertebrate animal populations. And here to discuss what the findings mean is Rebecca Shaw. She's the chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, and oversaw production of the report. Good morning, Rebecca.

REBECCA SHAW: Good morning.

FADEL: So if we could just start with that number - I think the exact number is 69% - can you put that in context for me? I mean, it sounds so high. Are the world's animals disappearing?

SHAW: We are seeing very sharp declines in the populations of animals across the globe. And this is across all continents in the globe. So it is a very sharp decline. And it means that for each population of bird or mammals, they've declined by 69%. And the 69% is an average of 32,000 populations measured across the globe since 1970. So it's pretty - it is very much a red flag and a warning signal that our the life support system on Earth is in trouble.

FADEL: What's driving the decline?

SHAW: Largely what is driving the climate decline at this point is the habitat loss, so destruction of habitat to produce more food and create more energy. And those those patterns don't seem to be decreasing, although there is hope on the horizon for sure.

FADEL: What's the hope?

SHAW: Since we can understand the biggest drivers of nature loss and habitat destruction and overharvesting, we can address those threats head-on. We don't have to continue the patterns of development the way we have now. Food production, unsustainable diets and food waste are really driving that habitat destruction. And we have an opportunity to change the way we produce, the - what we eat and how we consume food and what we waste when we consume our food. And so little things that we can do every day can change the direction of these population declines.

FADEL: But what are the biggest challenges to actually making that happen? Because this will have to be a global decision to try to reverse this.

SHAW: Yeah. One of the really important things to know is that there is a once-in-a-decade opportunity coming up in December where the governments of the world come together to make decisions and negotiate about what we're going to do about it.

FADEL: The U.N. Biodiversity Conference.

SHAW: Businesses also attend these meetings to make sure that they're heading in the right direction. And there will be financial commitments, global targets set. And so we do have - we - since so many are coming together to decide what to do about this crisis, there is an opportunity to make sure that we can set things on the right foot and begin to bend the curve on the loss of nature. And this would be important not just for biodiversity, but also for climate, since the loss of biodiversity and climate change are inextricably linked.

FADEL: Rebecca Shaw, the chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund. Thank you so much for your time.

SHAW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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