Ecological credit crunch will cost us dear

This week’s 2008 Living Planet report by WWF has generated a good deal of interest, not least because of the highly topical way it has been presented as an ecological credit crunch.

Amongst the most striking findings of the report are that demand for resources now exceeds the planet’s capacity to replenish its ‘natural capital’ by about 30%. If global consumption continues at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain this same lifestyle we now enjoy.

The report also shows that populations of nearly 1,700 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined on average by nearly 30% since 1970. The situation is particularly bleak in tropical regions, where the average fall is 51%.

If we continue to deplete the world’s natural resources at this rate then we really are engaged in a dangerous crunch situation – which may prove far less recoverable than the present financial crisis.

The Government has had a good couple of weeks from an environmental standpoint. The decision to increase the target for carbon dioxide emissions reductions by 2050 from 60% to 80% and the decision to include aviation and shipping within this are great steps forward.  It has rightly been praised for these measures, and green groups including the Woodland Trust are seeing them as a lobbying success.

The Living Planet report though, should give pause for sober reflection. The scale of the challenge suggests that a significant rescue package is also required for the natural world as well as the economy. In fact the two are inter-dependent: the environment is the life support system upon which our well-being ultimately depends.

The Climate Change Bill shows world leadership – the Government now needs to address the challenge of protecting the natural environment and the future security of the ecosystem services it provides.

It has made some encouraging noises in relation to addressing global deforestation but if this is to carry international credibility it needs to also lead by example at home.  As our research showed just last week – there have been 800 cases of the UK’s own irreplaceable ancient woods under threat from development in the last ten years, and there are currently 400 such cases on our books.

We need to stop this loss and ensure that such habitats have the protection they warrant. Tackling climate change and protecting the natural world are not separate policy agendas.  Read across between the two is essential if we are to achieve environmental security as well as financial security.

James Cooper, Head of Government Affairs, Woodland Trust

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