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Abstract

The Living Planet Report 2020 shows that there is an opportunity to heal our relationship with nature and mitigate risks of future pandemics but this better future starts with the decisions that governments, companies and people around the world take today. World leaders must take urgent action to protect and restore nature as the foundation for a healthy society and a thriving economy.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in millions of years. The way we produce and consume food and energy, and the blatant disregard for the environment entrenched in ourcurrent economic model, has pushed the natural world to its limits.
COVID-19 is a clear manifestation of our broken relationship with nature. It has highlighted the deep interconnection between nature, human health and well-being, and how unprecedented biodiversity loss threatens the health of both people and the planet.

It is time we answer nature’s SOS. Not just to secure the future of tigers, rhinos, whales, bees, trees and all the amazing diversity of life we love and have the moral duty to coexist with, but because ignoring it also puts the health, well-being and prosperity, indeed the future, of nearly 8 billion people at stake.

Agriculture is a significant driver of climate change, and climate change, in turn, adds further stress to land systems, worsening existing risks – for example of land degradation and biodiversity loss . Mitigating the negative impacts of agriculture on nature and biodiversity is therefore more important than ever.

Indeed, one-third of the terrestrial land surface is now used for cropping or animal husbandry, while of the total amount of water that people withdraw from available freshwater resources, 75% is used for crops or livestock.

Reducing food loss and waste represents a critical opportunity to relieve environmental pressure on our planet. An estimated one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally – this amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes every year . This means that around one-quarter of the calories the world produces are never eaten: they’re spoiled or spilled in supply chains, or are wasted by retailers, restaurants and consumers. In a multiplier effect, when food loss and waste occurs along the supply chain, all the land, water, energy, seeds, fertiliser, labour, capital and other resources that went into its production also go to waste.

Food loss and waste also contributes to climate change. It is responsible for at least 6% of total global greenhouse gas
emissions , three times more than the global emissions from aviation . Almost a quarter - 24% - of all emissions from the food sector comes from food that is lost in supply chains or wasted by consumers . At the same time, the potential of agricultural systems to provide habitats, and vegetation corridors for species to move between these habitats, enhancing rather than eroding ecosystem services and landscape resilience, has started to become more recognised .

Some agricultural systems and specific components within them – from riparian corridors, hedges, woodland patches and clearings in forests, to waterways, ponds or other biodiversity-friendly features of the production environment – can provide habitat for specific species.

The global Living Planet Index continues to decline. It shows an average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016. A 94% decline in the LPI for the tropical subregions of the Americas is the largest fall observed in any part of the world.

Why does this matter?
It matters because biodiversity is fundamental to human life on Earth, and the evidence is unequivocal – it is being destroyed by us at a rate unprecedented in history. Since the industrial revolution, human activities have increasingly destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other important ecosystems, threatening human well-being. Seventy-five per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has already been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted, and more than 85% of the area of wetlands has been lost. Species population trends are important because they are a measure of overall ecosystem health. Measuring biodiversity, the variety of all living things, is complex, and there is no single measure that can capture all of the changes in this web of life.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of indicators show net declines over recent decades. That’s because in the last 50 years our world has been transformed by an explosion in global trade, consumption and human population growth, as well as an enormous move towards urbanisation. Until 1970, humanity’s Ecological Footprint was smaller than the Earth’s rate of regeneration.

To feed and fuel our 21st century lifestyles, we are overusing the Earth’s biocapacity by at least 56%.

These underlying trends are driving the unrelenting destruction of nature, with only a handful of countries retaining most of the last remaining wilderness areas. Our natural world is transforming more rapidly than ever before, and climate change is further accelerating the change.