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Bending the Curve on Biodiversity Loss in Africa – The Living Planet Index 2020

The WWF’s flagship Living Planet Report (LPR) 2020 that was released on September 10th is a stark reminder of the ongoing collapse of biodiversity and our natural systems.  The central message of the Living Planet Report 2020, that nature - our life-support system - is declining at a staggering rate, comes at a time of great global upheaval.  Record temperatures, devastating forest fires, locust outbreaks, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic all highlight how the health of people and our planet are increasingly intertwined.  With an overall decline of 68% in monitored vertebrate populations globally, the LPR 2020 sends a clear message to humanity that we must transform our relationship with nature – for the sake of both the planet and ourselves. As the ultimate drivers of this catastrophic loss of biodiversity, we as humans have both the responsibility and the ability to reverse this trend.

The Living Planet Report 2020, is a collaboration between WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) with contributions from 134 authors from 25 countries around the globe. Published every 2 years, this 13th edition of the LPR highlights the current state of biodiversity and the health of the planet through the Living Planet Index (LPI) which tracks the abundance of almost 21,000 populations of over 4000 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the world. LPI data is publically available at www.livingplanetindex.org

Africa’s Living Planet Index 2020

For Africa, the LPR reports an alarming 65% decline in population sizes of mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles Figure 1). These declines are largely driven by increasing demand on natural resources to support a growing population and global patterns of unsustainable consumption and production that lead to widespread habitat loss (45.9%), over exploitation of species (35.5%), and invasive species and disease (11.6%) (Figure 2).  The impacts of these drivers will be magnified through globalization and intensified under climate change. 

Graphic LPR 2020
Graphic LPR 2020
Key Threats to Biodiversity in Africa

Land-use change and habitat loss - This refers to the modification of the environment where a species lives, by complete removal, fragmentation or reduction in quality of key habitat.
Species exploration - There are both direct and indirect forms of overexploitation. Direct overexploitation refers to unsustainable hunting and poaching or harvesting, whether for subsistence or trade. Indirect overexploitation occurs when non-target species are killed unintentionally, for example as bycatch in fisheries.
Invasive species - Invasive species can compete with native species for space, food and other resources, can turn out to be a predator for native species, or spread diseases that were not previously present in the environment. Humans also transport new diseases from one area of the globe to another.

But the impact of these declines is not limited to biodiversity alone. The LPR 2020 clearly outlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives. For example, steep declines in soil biodiversity reflect widespread declines in soil fertility and agricultural productivity.  Similarly, staggering declines in freshwater biodiversity (84% since 1970) highlight the critical state of wetlands and freshwater ecosystems.

The LPR also gives us hope. Pioneering modeling used for the first time tells us that we can still “Bend the Curve”. For Africa, the message is loud and clear –  if we, among other things, increase the extent of land under conservation management, restore degraded land and transform the way we produce and consume our food, we can bend the curve on nature loss and chart a sustainable future where both people and nature live in harmony. However, feeding Africa’s growing population - projected to be 2.5 billion by 2050 - will require a significant increase in agricultural output, putting a huge burden on natural resources. Total arable land has increased from 133 million hectares.

four decades ago to 240 million hectares in 2020; and by 2050, it is estimated to increase to 291 million hectares. But Africa still has 60 percent of the world arable land and thus an opportunity to do things differently. Africa can learn from the mistakes of others, to innovate, to adapt, and to invest in a sustainable future.  Africa can embrace an integrated approach, combining ambitious conservation and restoration with measures targeting the drivers of habitat conversion – including sustainable agricultural production and food systems, nature friendly infrastructure and equitable access to sustainable energy, and the elimination of the overexploitation and illegal trade in species ranging from elephants, to grey parrots, to mangroves, to freshwater and marine fisheries. 
In order to achieve this, we need a whole of government approach with sector-specific action. Sectors driving biodiversity loss, including the agriculture and food sectors; forestry; fisheries; infrastructure; mining and extractives, as well as the financial sector, need to transform and develop action plans to innovate and transition to nature positive, carbon-neutral and equitable practices. Specifically,

  • Heads of State need to provide leadership and commitment at the highest level to a nature positive, carbon neutral and equitable world by 2030;

  • Ministers of Environment need to coordinate and maintain the level of ambition and actions that are needed to reverse nature loss;

  • Ministers of Planning and Development need to ensure that biodiversity action is integrated into national development and spatial plans;

  • Ministers of Finance and Economy need to align financial flows with the nature positive goals including eliminating subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity. They must also adopt green and just recovery plans;

  • Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry;  Industry and Trade; Climate and Energy must develop and implement sector-specific national, regional and global plans of action for food and agriculture, forestry, fisheries, infrastructure and energy, extractives and manufacturing sectors to transition to sustainable consumption and production and a circular economy that operates within planetary boundaries and to apply nature-based solutions to societal challenges.

  • Ministers of Health must link the health of humans, animals and our shared environment through interventions which address nature exploitation and destruction. This is in order to reduce the risk of zoonotic infectious diseases and their negative impacts on human health and livelihoods and which promote sustainable diets with foods that contribute to human and planetary health.

  • Ministers of Foreign Affairs must engage in regional and international collaboration (including trade) to address biodiversity loss as a transboundary and international issue, meet commitments for official development assistance, which forms a crucial component of the funding needed by developing countries to halt and reverse nature loss.

The above approach will also require the full participation and ownership of civil society – including Indigenous peoples and local communities, women and girls and youth. Recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources is also essential to ensure better outcomes for people and the planet.
Africa has made important strides towards a nature positive agenda including adopting an ambitious restoration agenda through the AFR100 and the Great Green Wall; a circular economy agenda with plastic bans in more than 30 countries; adopting natural capital accounting in more than 20 countries,  a world leading digital revolution and a vibrant youth advocating and making their voice heard for nature.

Starting with the UN Summit on Biodiversity taking place this week, and with the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Food Systems Summit all taking place in 2021, Africa and the rest of the world have a unique opportunity to agree on an ambitious and integrated set of transformative actions to set nature on the path to recovery by 2030, in support of climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals. Together, we can address the planetary emergency and secure an equitable, carbon-neutral and nature-positive world that safeguards both human and planetary health.

For nature, for us!


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