Living Planet report

Our planet is changing, and too fast! The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recently publish a report on the state of our planet’s wildlife, and the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. So what does it reveal?

The Living Planet Report 2022 is WWF’s most comprehensive study, to date, of trends in global biodiversity and the health of our planet, and it doesn’t make comfortable reading. You don’t need to be a genius to realise that our climate is changing and changing fast. Agriculture, urban development, forestation and deforestation, mining, industrialisation, over-consumption and many more other human-induced factors within our control all play a part, but with this report we can now start to understand and comprehend our impact on the world’s wildlife.

Our planet’s climate has, of course, changed through its history. It goes in cycles, with the most extreme ones causing extinctions or even mass extinctions. However, what we are now witnessing is not a ‘normal’ cycle. At best it is accelerated and this in itself presents problems as pace of change is well beyond that at which most of the living world can adapt to and evolve.

Biodiversity is the variety of life and its interactions at all levels from genes and species to population numbers and ecosystems, on land, in water and in the air. A complex network of connections which functions in its completeness. Every reduction in biodiversity breaks some of these connections and the knock on effects can be dramatic. To visualise this on a simple level our changing climate affects the seasons and impacts reproductive cycles. Birds, for example, hatch their chicks to coincide with the availability of their food supplies. The Bluetit’s young hatch when the caterpillars they feed on are abundant. With an unusually cold springtime, the caterpillars can emerge later and food for the Bluetit chicks becomes scarce. Now multiply this across the species and take it to all levels and you have a crisis in nature.

Global warming has impacts for the human race as well. On a simple level, the crops which can be grown in a geographical location change as the climate change becomes more extreme. This doesn’t just impact food supplies, but also animal feed, medicines, crops grown for their fibres (such as cotton) and, importantly, water supplies. The subsequent impacts soils, oceans, dispersal of seeds, pests and diseases can be profound.

So what does the Living Planet report tell us?

It makes stark reading! The headline statistic is that wildlife populations have plummeted by a huge 69% over the last 50 years. In contrast, CO2 emissions have risen by 146% (and are still rising), materials/fossil fuel extraction by 193% and meat production by 244%, all against a background of a 107% rise in the human population – over twice as many people to feed, house and provide for.

In Europe, biodiversity has declined by 18%, though in the UK this is much higher, but this is the lowest region globally. In Latin America and the Caribbean this has declined by an eye-watering 94%.

To read more visit Living Planet report. ~You can the download the full report on this page or here.

Against this background, COP27 has just ended in Egypt, without any notable progress to bring the use of fossil fuels to an end. Unbelievably, fossil fuel usage is still rising globally and the biggest contributors are not engaging seriously with the problem. China is often held up as the bad boy of climate pollution and whilst their polluting data is amongst the worst, and rising, if the ecological footprint is measured per head of population then North America (both USA and Canada) and Australia have the highest consumers rates driving this. In the UK, after hosting COP26 and making lots of noise about the importance of acting on climate change, our government and new Prime Minister are riding rough-shod over policies to decrease then stop fossil fuel extraction, instead of solving problems with fuel storage and accelerating sun, wind and wave energy generation.

Indeed, in many countries around the world – arguably most countries – we, Planet Earth and its wildlife are being failed by our politicians and inflated national egos. The problem isn’t going to go away – it will get worse and faster so we all need to think how we can make a contribution now. Let’s be clear though, we can’t do this without giving something up, without some pain as a society and a race.

This all sounds like doom and gloom, but the report has many positive sections on projects which are already underway around the world. We just need more of them. These vary from conservation and restoration of mangroves – a key biodiverse aquatic environment which sequesters “blue carbon’ – to involving local communities in the fight. One project, of particular interest to photographers, gives cameras to Maasai women to document the effects of climate change driven draught on all aspects of their lives.

The bottom line is that we need to act, especially if our politicians won’t. Whilst this report highlights the problems with wildlife and biodiversity, it also give a good context of how climate change and biodiversity and inter-related, and what needs to be done to first slow the rate of damage then assist the natural world to recover. Time is not on our side but we can all do our bit to kick start a change in direction.

This feature is necessarily concise and simplistic, but I would urge everyone read the full report. It is a fascinating insight into everything we need to know about where we are and what needs to be done to bring positive change to biodiversity and climate.

In 2023 we’ll bring you some features on sustainability and conservation, highlighting what’s happening around the world and bringing you opinions from those involved in this issue.

To read more visit Living Planet report. ~You can the download the full report on this page or here.


By Chris Coe

Chris is a professional photographer, and the founder of Travel Photographer of the Year. He has been working as a professional photographer since 1992, shooting both editorial and advertising photography, and has published over 50 books. He lectures on and teaches photography, mentors and is a competition judge.