The Green Heart of Europe region suffers biodiversity loss, but shows the way with solutions
Gland, Switzerland/Vienna, Austria – Global wildlife populations have declined by more than half in just 40 years as measured in WWF’s Living Planet Report 2014. Wildlife’s continued decline highlights the need for sustainable solutions to heal the planet, according to the report released today.
The Living Planet Report 2014 also shows Ecological Footprint – a measure of humanity’s demands on nature – continuing its upward climb. Taken together, biodiversity loss and unsustainable footprint threaten natural systems and human well-being, but can also point us toward actions to reverse current trends.
“Biodiversity is a crucial part of the systems that sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to this planet, our only home. We urgently need bold global action in all sectors of society to build a more sustainable future,” said WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini.
The Living Planet Report 2014 is the tenth edition of WWF’s biennial flagship publication. With the theme Species and Spaces, People and Places, the report tracks over 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010 through the Living Planet Index – a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London. The report’s measure of humanity’s Ecological Footprint is provided by the Global Footprint Network.
Habitat loss and degradation, and exploitation through hunting and fishing, are the main causes of biodiversity decline. Climate change comes next, and is already causing the possible extinction of species.
Humanity’s Footprint, or our demand on nature, is also climbing. It is more than 50 per cent larger than what nature can renew, meaning it would take nature 1.5 Earths to replenish what we use annually. This global overshoot means, for example, that we are cutting timber more quickly than trees regrow, pumping freshwater faster than groundwater restocks, and releasing CO2 faster than nature can sequester.
“If everyone on our planet lived the average life of a citizen of Central and Southeastern Europe, we would need 1.6 Earths. Overall, the region has reduced somewhat its total per capita footprint since 2012, but this is most likely due to population declines and economic recession”, says Andreas Beckmann, Director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.
In the region, Slovakia has the largest ecological footprint – it uses resources as if it has 2.1 planets available. (Out of the EU Member States evaluated, Belgium, the country which hosts the European Institutions, has one of the world’s largest Ecological Footprints per person, requiring an equivalent of 4.3 Earths if everyone lived like an average resident of Belgium, and ranking 5th globally behind countries like Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.)
The other two countries in Central and Southeastern Europe that place greater ecological demands than the world average are Bulgaria (1.7 planets) and Hungary (1.6 planets). The footprint of Ukraine (1.5 planets), Serbia (1.4 planets), and Romania (1.4 planets) is at or below the world average, but still far from being sustainable.
In the region, which contains many of Europe’s greatest natural treasures, fish numbers have fallen by 30% since the 1960s when a large part of the Danube floodplains were cut off from the river and the Iron Gates dams between Romania and Serbia erected. Currently, the Danube River in Romania and Bulgaria holds the only — still — viable populations of wild sturgeons in the European Union, but their populations are in steep decline. The Danube lost 80% of its former floodplains and wetlands since the late 19th century, and with them much of its biological diversity.
WWF estimates that as much as half of the area of virgin and Old Growth forest in the Carpathian Mountains – still the largest areas of such forests in Europe outside of Russia and northern Scandinavia – has been lost over the past decade. Poorly planned infrastructure development, from motorways to ski resorts, is leading to unnecessary loss and fragmentation of natural habitats.
But not all is doom and gloom. WWF has worked with state forest companies and the private sector to secure sustainable management certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for 2.8 million hectares of forests in the Green Heart of Europe. A multi-year wetlands conservation and restoration initiative targets nine sites on the Danube and Drava rivers in six countries of the region. Last spring, 17 bison have been reintroduced to Romania as part of the largest reintroduction of the species in Europe. And WWF has been closely involved in developing good practice guidance for the development of navigation and hydropower that has been adopted by all Danube governments.
Meanwhile, WWF is worried that environment has been downgraded in the new European Commission proposals. A forward looking environmental agenda of innovation, green economy, green jobs is missing; and so too are the links between environment, development, climate change, foreign policy and security. Worse than this, the environment is being downgraded in these new proposals. The environmental mandate is clearly headed in a direction of deregulation with the Birds and Habitat directives, and hence the EU biodiversity strategy, is under the greatest threat.
The complete Living Planet Report 2014, summary and support material can be found at www.panda.org/LPR
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
WWF’s The Green Heart of Europe initiative across 12 countries in Central and Eastern Europe aims to save and protect the five natural riches of the region – forests, wilderness, large carnivores, rivers and wetlands, and the Danube sturgeon.
About Zoological Society of London
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our groundbreaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit www.zsl.org
About Global Footprint Network
Global Footprint Network promotes the science of sustainability by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a resource accounting tool that makes sustainability measurable. Together with its partners, the Network works to further improve and implement this science by coordinating research, developing methodological standards, and providing decision-makers with robust resource accounts to help the human economy operate within the Earth’s ecological limits. www.footprintnetwork.org
For more information:
– Konstantin Ivanov, Communications, WWF in Central andEastern Europe, +359 884 514 636, firstname.lastname@example.org