NEWS

WWF’s Living Planet Report not all doom and gloom

10/01/2014 11:00 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
The World Wildlife Fund's biennial report on the state of the global environment paints a pretty gloomy picture of a planet in decline.

Wildlife populations have dropped sharply, by 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010, especially freshwater vertebrate species, which declined 76 per cent.

Humanity's growing demands on nature are already unsustainable, the report says. "This means we are eating into our natural capital."

One example: one-third of the world's population experience severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year, with growing demand and climate change the chief causes.

The carbon footprint accounts for more than half of what the WWF report measures in its 'Ecological Footprint.' The countries with the highest per capita ecological footprint are, in order: Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Denmark.

Canada was 11th on the WWF ranking of countries by their “ecological footprint, after ranking eighth two years ago. "If everybody in the world lived the same way that Canadians did we would need at least four planets in order for people to survive and that's impossible," WWF Canada head David Miller told CBC News. (Two years ago, that calculation was 3.5 planets.)

Nevertheless, the WWF says, "the challenge is not an insurmountable one."

Richard Brooks, Forest Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace Canada, agrees, saying "there's a need for people — citizens of the world — multinational corporations and local and national governments to come together to protect these biodiversity and climate hotspots … if we're going to arrest the decline in wildlife and wild spaces."

Here are six examples (five from the report) of what the WWF calls "better ways to "manage, use and share natural resources within the planet's capacity."

Involve local communities (Africa)

The two surviving groups of mountain gorillas on the Virunga volcanoes along the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, as well as those in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, have increased by almost 30 per cent in recent years, according to the WWF.

The report notes that the mountain gorilla, which once seemed headed for extinction, is "the only species of great ape whose numbers are rising." Partly, at least, this is due to the mountain gorilla ecotourism program.

In Uganda alone, the gorillas bring in between $8 and $34 million US in tourism dollars.

Besides local salaries, the revenues help fund gorilla conservation and community projects."

As people benefit directly from the gorillas and understand their value, they have an added incentive to look after the forest," WWF says.

More marine parks (Chile)

This year Chile inaugurated the Tic Toc marine protected area off its southern coast, designed primarily for blue whales, which feed and nurse in the area. The WWF says the whale's survival “depends on such critical areas being protected."

Plans call for a network of MPAs in this region, the Chiloense Marine Ecoregion.

The area also has 30 per cent of global salmon production, for example, so producers, government, local and indigenous communities and other stakeholders came together to agree on  a conservation strategy for this ecosystem, which was already under stress.

Coastal development plans (Belize)

The Mesoamerican Reef and the mangroves off Belize's Caribbean coast bring in about $15 million US a year for the commercial fishery, but they also bring in more than ten times that in tourism.

The government, local businesses and environmental groups, including WWF, are collaborating on a coastal management plan that "blends strong conservation goals with current and future needs for coastal development and marine uses."

The WWF likes how the plan recognizes the real dollar value of ecosystems. They expect the plan will boost revenue for both the fishery and tourism.

Restore wetlands (South Africa)

Almost half of South Africa's wetlands are endangered, with the establishment of tree plantations being a major factor.

"Wetlands purify and store water, control erosion, reduce the severity of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow, and recharge aquifers," the WWF explains.

As a result of "new models of plantation forestry that contribute to the welfare of local communities and work in harmony with natural ecosystems," 23,000 hectares have been added to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Much of this had been plantation land and had to be restored to wetlands and savannah.

Wind power (Denmark)

Last year, for example, one third of Denmark's electricity came from wind power, and in December it provided over 57 per cent of Denmark’s electricity consumption, "the first time ever that wind power supplied more than half of a country’s electricity needs for a whole month," according to the WWF.

By 2020 the Danish Parliament wants half the electricity to come from wind power. The government provides financial incentives to individuals and families "to buy wind turbines or shares in co-operatives to invest in wind power in their communities."

The WWF likes this community-ownership model, with about 40,000 Danes owners or part-owners of wind turbines.

Ecosystem-based management (Canada)

Canada Great Bear Rainforest is not in the WWF report, but is comparable to their examples.

The Great Bear Rainforest along the B.C. coast "represents one of the largest tracts of intact temperate rainforest remaining on the planet," according to Greenpeace.

After years of protest, blockades and boycotts, forestry companies (including Interfor, Western Forest Products and Catalyst Paper) came together with First Nations, local communities and environmental groups, resulting in the 2006 Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.

Greenpeace's Brooks calls it a global model of "how a solution can be good for communities, preserve wilderness spaces and wildlife and do so in a way that helps arrest this degradation of these forest resources and biodiversity."

For the companies, the agreement brought stability and a certainty of supply, and, of course, an end to the controversy.

Brooks says there is now a $120 million conservation fund "to help support local First Nations communities develop projects that are sustainable, have an interest in preserving the forest but also have economic benefit to those local communities."

Once again, ecotourism is a big component of those projects. Brooks says it's key that ecotourism gets done in the right way, which means that it "supports the local communities who rely on the rainforest for their survival."

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