(CNN Spanish) — No word seems sufficient to explain the magnitude of the environmental crisis. Perhaps the best way to understand it is with a figure: 94%.
The populations of vertebrate animals —a category that includes mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish— in Latin America and the Caribbean have decreased by an average of 94% between 1970 and 2018, according to the Living Planet Report 2022 published by the World Wildlife organization Fund (WWF).
This is just one of the many numbers that reflect the biodiversity crisis that the Earth is going through, closely connected to the other environmental crisis whose effects we already feel on a daily basis: the climate crisis.
The organization made its most comprehensive assessment yet of the state of vertebrate animals and found that, globally, populations have fallen by an average of 69% in nearly 50 years. The situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, 25% above the global average, is the most alarming. In North America, meanwhile, the percentage rises to 20%, according to the report that controls some 32,000 populations of just over 5,230 species.
The populations that have decreased the most, according to the study carried out by 98 professionals, are those of fresh water, which were reduced by 83% in the period surveyed. At the marine level, the loss of corals, which have been reduced by half, and the drastic decrease in the abundance of oceanic sharks and rays, also stand out.
“The figures (…) should not be interpreted in an apocalyptic way or as a point of no return. Rather, we should see them as an alarm signal that warns us of the urgency to act now. Yet
we have time to reverse the loss of biodiversity”, says in a statement accompanying the publication Luis Germán Naranjo, director of Conservation and Governance of WWFColombia.
Changes in the soil and overexploitation of flora and fauna are the main factors associated with the degradation of biodiversity, as well as climate change, pollution and the presence of invasive alien species. Behind these phenomena is the human footprint and our growing demand for food and energy, which also accompanies the increase in population.
“To date climate change has not been a dominant driver of biodiversity loss, but if we do not limit warming to less than 2°C, preferably 1.5°C, it is likely that in the coming decades climate change will become the main factor in the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of
ecosystem services”, explains the report on the role of the climate crisis.
In Latin America there are multiple “hot spots” of risk
Combining information from the Red List of the Union for the Conservation of Nature, WWF produced a map that identifies different levels of threat to species of mammals, birds and amphibians. The threats are mainly given by agriculture, logging, overexploitation and capture of animals, pollution, climate change and invasive species.
The map shows that Latin America has some of the most threatening hot spots, which are identified in purple. The report includes among the regions to which more attention should be paid to the Amazon basin and the northern Andes, up to Panama and Costa Rica.
An X-Ray of the Amazon
“In eight years the Amazon as we know it may have disappeared.” This grim warning is part of WWF’s published assessment of the world’s largest tropical forest. There it is specified that 17% of the basin has been deforested and another 17% is degraded.
The Amazon today is home to more than 500 groups of native peoples and in the indigenous territories, which occupy 27% of the total surface, is where the lowest rates of deforestation are found.
In the report, the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin calls for an agreement that allows permanent protection of 80% of the Amazon by 2025, which implies recognition and respect for the role of indigenous people in the territory.
“Is it possible for the Amazon biome to be declared intangible cultural heritage of humanity, so that all the creatures that live in it stop being killed, burned and polluted? Is it possible to save this ecosystem from extinction?” they ask. The answer is affirmative, according to the referents, but it necessarily implies work with the indigenous peoples.
The outstanding student is also in Latin America
Latin America shows the most alarming figures and, at the same time, is home to a country that is an example worldwide: Costa Rica.
The report highlights the trajectory of the Central American nation since it included the right to a healthy environment in the Constitution in 1994. For that year, due to deforestation, forests occupied 25% of the country’s surface. Today, according to WWF, the percentage has doubled and thanks to reforestation they occupy more than half of the territory.
99% of the electricity consumed in the country comes from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, and open pit mining and the exploitation of gas and oil have been prohibited by law.
In addition, the country has a carbon tax, the proceeds of which are paid to farmers and indigenous peoples who restore forests.