The public is being urged to hold tight to what nature we have left as wildlife populations shrink to just one-third the size they were in the 1970s.
Data collected on almost 4,400 different species of animals, birds and fish in 21,000 locations around the world over 46 years shows an average rate of decline in abundance of 68pc. Deforestation, pollution, over-fishing and climate change are all contributing to the loss which the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) described as "catastrophic".
WWF released the findings in its biennial Living Planet Report which presents the grimmest picture of the state of the world's wildlife since publication began in 1998.
The 2018 report revealed a 60pc decline, while the figure was 58pc in 2016 and 52pc in 2014. Between 1970 and 2008, a 30pc decline was reported, meaning the destruction of wildlife has accelerated rapidly in recent years.
On a regional comparison, Europe's species are least affected, with populations shrinking by an average of 24pc over the 46-year period.
Latin America and the Caribbean populations have been decimated, losing on average 94pc of their numbers.
But Dr Ian Donohue, head of the zoology department at Trinity College Dublin, said that did not mean the toll inflicted on wildlife by human behaviour in Europe was any less than elsewhere.
"That just reflects the fact that we have had large, highly dense populations in Europe for a thousand years whereas populations are growing exponentially in other parts of the world," he said.
"So it's not like Europe is a great place for nature; we just destroyed our wildlife a thousand years ago and we haven't got that much left to destroy. We have hardly any wild areas left in Europe at all compared to places in Africa or Brazil or Canada. We don't have anywhere wild in Ireland for example, not properly wild."
The WWF report has provoked widespread dismay, with renowned naturalist David Attenborough warning that major change was needed in the way the world produces food, creates energy, uses materials and manages oceans.
"A change from viewing nature as something that's optional or 'nice to have' to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world," he wrote in an essay to accompany the report.
Dr Donohue echoed that view. "This isn't just an emotive story about losing animals. We are undermining our own future," he said. "Biodiversity does so much for humanity that we don't even think about. It really is our life-support network. It provides food, fibre, water, energy, medicine. It regulates climate if we let it. It does all of this stuff that we don't account for so it's not just a sad story, it has massive consequences."
The Dáil last year declared a biodiversity crisis in tandem with the climate crisis and the current Programme for Government commits to convening a citizens assembly on biodiversity.
Ireland is also part of Europe's Green Deal reform package which contains ambitions for the protection of natural areas and wildlife.
Dr Donohue said that while global and multinational policies supporting wildlife were essential, individuals could also help by small actions in their everyday lives.
"Nature is local and we can protect what's in front of us and hang on tightly to it. That's how we signal to politicians that we want them to act."
Source – The Irish Independent