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Living Planet Report Details Dangers Of Living Beyond The Environment's Means

New WWF Analysis Warns of "Ecological Credit Crunch" and Offers Solutions For Avoiding A "Natural Resources Meltdown" As U.S. Scores Among Nations With Largest Ecological Footprint

WASHINGTON DC, October 28, 2008 – As global financial markets learn difficult lessons on the consequences of unregulated spending, a new report issued by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns of the danger to future prosperity if the reckless over-consumption of the Earth’s natural capital is left unchecked. 

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2008, produced with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network (GFN), shows more than three quarters of the world’s people now living in nations that are ecological debtors, where national consumption has outstripped their country’s biological capacity. Presently, human demands on the world's natural capital measure nearly a third more than earth can sustain. In addition, global natural wealth and diversity continue to decline, and more and more countries are slipping into a state of permanent or seasonal water stress.

The findings of the Living Planet Report 2008 reinforce WWF-US’s “Greenprint” agenda, a policy road map for the next U.S. administration, which was provided in mid-October to Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill) and their U.S. presidential campaign staffs. Commenting on the “Greenprint” at its release, Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF-US noted “Global consumption of natural resources far exceeds the Earth’s regenerative capacity. We are borrowing from our natural capital at an entirely unsustainable rate.  And, as is evidenced from the current economic crisis, unsustainable borrowing is not without profound consequences. To raise the stakes even further, there can be no bailout if the Earth’s systems collapse.”

“The world is currently struggling with the consequences of over-valuing its financial assets, but a more fundamental crisis looms ahead – an ecological credit crunch caused by under-valuing the environmental assets that are the basis of all life and prosperity,” said WWF International Director-General James Leape, in the foreword to the new report. “Most of us are propping up our current lifestyles, and our economic growth, by drawing - and increasingly overdrawing - on the ecological capital of other parts of the world,” Leape said. 

According to the Living Planet Report 2008, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Kuwait have the largest national ecological footprints per person.  On the other end of the scale are countries such as Haiti and the Congo, with a low ecological footprint per person, but facing a future of degrading biocapacity from deforestation and increased demands from a rising population and export pressures. 

The Living Planet Report, published by WWF every two years since 1998, has become widely accepted as an accurate analysis of the earth's ability to remain a “living planet”.  In 2008, it adds for the first time, new measures of global, national and individual water footprints to existing measures of the Ecological Footprint of human demand on natural resources and the Living Planet Index, a measure of the state of nature.

The Living Planet Index, compiled by ZSL, shows a nearly 30 per cent decline since 1970 in nearly 5000 measured populations of 1,686 species.  These dramatic losses in our natural wealth are being driven by deforestation and land conversion in the tropics and the impact of dams, diversions and climate change on freshwater species. Pollution, over-fishing and destructive fishing in marine and coastal environments are also taking a considerable toll.

The Living Planet Report 2008 includes a new water footprint measurement which illustrates the significance of water traded in the form of commodities; for example, the production of a cotton T-shirt requires 765 gallons of water. On average, each person consumes 327,177 gallons  (about half an Olympic swimming pool) of water a year, but this varies from 654,354 gallons per person a year (USA) to 163,325 gallons per capita annually (Yemen).  Approximately 50 countries are currently facing moderate or severe water stress and the number of people suffering from year-round or seasonal water shortages is expected to increase as a result of climate change, the report finds.

For the single most important challenge – climate change – the report shows that a range of efficiency, renewable and low emissions “wedges” could meet projected energy demands to 2050 with reductions in carbon emissions of 60 to 80 percent.  Bringing an ecosystems approach into consumption, development and trade considerations would go a long way to protecting the world's vital living resources.

“These Living Planet measures serve as clear and robust signposts to what needs to be done,” said WWF-International’s Leape. “If humanity has the will, it has the way to live within the means of the planet, but we must recognize that the ecological credit crunch will require even bolder action that that now being mustered for the financial crisis.”

Notes for editors:

The 2008 Living Planet Report can be downloaded at www.panda.org/lpr/08

The WWF-US  ‘Greenprint’ for the next U.S. administration can be downloaded at www.worldwildlife.org/greenprint

The report and additional multimedia materials including broadcast quality video can be found at http://wwf.extranet.largeblue.net/mA1aGb73.html

For further information:

WWF: Phil Dickie, WWF International News Editor, +41 79 7031952, pdickie@wwfint.org

GFN:  Nicole Freeling, (415) 577-9282, nicole@footprintnetwork.org

ZSL: Alice Henchley, Senior Press Officer, +44 7790 301596, alice.henchley@zsl.org

ABOUT WORLD WILDLIFE FUND
WWF is the world’s largest conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, stop the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit www.worldwildlife.org to learn more.    

ABOUT  ZSL
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats.  ZSL runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over forty countries worldwide. www.zsl.org

ABOUT GFN
The Global Footprint Network promotes a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a tool that makes sustainability measurable.  Together with its partners, the network coordinates research, develops methodological standards, and provides decision makers with robust resource accounts to help the human economy operate within the Earth’s ecological limits. www.footprintnetwork.org.