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WWF report: Australians living beyond their means

Image credit: WWF-Canon / James Morgan

If everyone on the planet consumed as many resources as Australians we’d need 3.6 planets to sustain our lifestyles, the latest WWF Living Planet Index has found.

The 10th edition of the Living Planet Report, launched today (Tuesday) at the UN in Geneva, has found that humanity is overreaching the planet’s biocapacity by more than 50 per cent, which has led to a rapid reduction in biodiversity.

Populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles were found to have declined by 52 per cent since 1970, while freshwater species suffered a massive 76 per cent decline.

Habitat loss and degradation were the biggest culprits, while overfishing and hunting also contributed. Climate change was also cited as a contributor, with research showing it was already responsible for the possible extinction of species.

In Australia, which recorded the 13th largest ecological footprint, 6.25 global hectares (a measure of what the world’s productive land and ocean can generate over the course of a year) were needed per person to sustain its inhabitants’ consumption practices. The planet has the ability to sustain 1.7 global hectares per person.

“The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the ecosystems essential for our wellbeing is alarming, and a direct consequence of the way we produce and consume,” WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said.

For Australia, our carbon intensive electricity grid was the main culprit for our large ecological footprint, which Mr O’Gorman said highlighted the need for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“If we are to live within our means and stop this ecological overshoot, we need to introduce urgent measures that address our growing carbon footprint,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“Scaling up the Renewable Energy Target and strengthening the government’s pollution reduction target from five per cent to at least 25 per cent by 2020 are two ways to achieve this.”

One Planet living crucial to arrest biodiversity loss

There was hope in all the bad news, with the report providing a series of “One Planet solutions” – case studies of communities, businesses, cities and governments reducing their footprints, with associated environmental, social and economic benefits.

For example, farmers on the Great Barrier Reef coast have been working with government, scientists and NGOs to develop innovative farming practices to reduce farm run-off while boosting productivity, with a 15 per cent reduction of pesticide pollution and a 13 per cent reduction of fertiliser pollution onto the Reef over the past five years.

A report published by the government following the Living Planet Report going to print shows an even better result, with pesticide pollution reduced by 28 per cent and fertiliser pollution down by 16 per cent.

“These initial results are very encouraging but to ensure the Great Barrier Reef’s survival, we now need to scale up this good work across all farmers and all of the catchments that run into the Reef,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“Restoring the Reef to its former glory will require a significant boost in both public and private investment, from millions of dollars currently allocated to billions of dollars.”

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