Rising consumption "killing nature," says WWF

NGO claims a first for quantitative indexes of ecosystem health, consumption pressure

The world's ecosystems declined by 30% between 1970 and 1995, according to a new index of ecosystem "health and biodiversity," which was launched yesterday by international environmental group the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The group blamed the trend on rising consumption and presented a consumption index that identifies which countries impose most pressure on nature.

Numerous scientific studies have charted decline in various species, areas or ecosystems, but WWF claims that its "living planet index" is the first to measure global ecological quality quantitatively over time. The results are a "stark indication of the deteriorating health of natural ecosystems," according to Jonathan Loh of WWF.

The living planet index is itself based on three indexes - of forest, freshwater and marine ecosystem health. Forest health is measured as the area of natural forest cover, while the freshwater and marine ecosystem indexes are both based on population changes in over 50 common species.

According to Jorgen Randers, WWF deputy director general, the index is a good indication of actual trends in global biodiversity, despite its simplicity. "The specification of the index is sound," he told journalists yesterday. WWF does say, however, that it would ideally like a better measure of forest health than just area, which it says is not necessarily a good guide to forest quality.

The decline in nature identified in the index is a "direct result of over-consumption," WWF goes on to say in a second part of the report published yesterday. The group sets out a new "consumption pressure index" designed to identify which countries are most to blame, both in absolute and per capita terms.

The consumption pressure index confirms results of earlier studies suggesting that the world's rich countries consume far more than poor countries. Its significance, says WWF, is that, like the living planet index, it provides the first quantitative measure of consumption pressure, which can now be updated from year to year.

Six factors are included in the index: grain, marine fish and wood consumption, freshwater withdrawals, carbon dioxide emissions and cement consumption. The last two are designed as proxies for respectively air pollution generally and loss of natural habitat through urban expansion. The index is based on 1995 statistics.

Perhaps surprisingly, Norwegians are identified as imposing more consumption pressure per capita than any nationality, followed by Taiwanese, Chileans, Singaporeans, Danes and Americans. Equally unexpected must be the result that Britons impose less consumption pressure per capita than any other EU nationality.

Follow Up:
WWF, tel: +41 22 364 9111. The "Living Planet Report 1998" is available in full on the web site.

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