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Cliff Notes for Living Planet Report

April 17th, 2012 |

Below is a short review of the 2010 Living Planet Report, sent to me by John R. Bermingham, who felt the online version was unwieldy and difficult to navigate, but the content nonetheless important. The Report shows humanity’s annual consumption of renewable resources in 2007 as being one and a half times greater than Earth’s ability to replace them and likely twice as great by 2030. WWF will release a new Living Planet Report in about a month. The link to the full 2010 report is here: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/

Living Planet Report 2010: Biodiversity, biocapacity, and development

Published by WWF International, Zoological Society of London, and the Global Footprint Network, San Francisco

The Living Planet Report 2010 is the 8th edition of a widely quoted report about the global supply and use of renewable resources – crops, livestock, soils, forests, etc. This edition found humanity’s annual consumption of these resources in 2007 as being one and a half times greater than Earth’s ability to replace these resources and likely twice as great by 2030, with the overages coming from reductions in the resources’ basic stocks.

Hard-copies of this report are not readily available, probably due to production problems, and the on-line version is somewhat difficult to use. The following review is based on a hard-copy version given me by Donna Kutchma, librarian at the Washington, DC, office of the World Wildlife Fund, to whom I am grateful.

The Report’s findings are based upon extensive studies, including trends in forests, fields, and in almost 8000 vertebrate species. Unfortunately, despite colored charts and other devices obviously intended as enhancements, the ultimate layout is poor. So, too, the arrangements and flows of text. The Report is a “difficult read.” Nevertheless, the substance and findings are very important.

John R. Bermingham, 601 Franklin St., Denver, CO 80218


Forward, p. 3 – The Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria, provides a short statement of support for this report and of the need to protect biodiversity and ecosystems in order to have a stronger, fairer, and cleaner world economy. OECD now includes over thirty of the world’s most economically developed nations.

Focusing on the Future, pp. 4, 5 – by WWF International’s Director General, James P. Leape, mentions the Report’s three most important indices:
1. Living Planet Index indicates the health of world biodiversity
2. Ecological Footprint is a measure of our demands on Earth’s resources
3. Water Footprint is a measure of our demands on sources of fresh water.

Leape concludes, “We have to devise ways of getting as much, and more, from much less. Continuing to consume the Earth’s resources more quickly than they can be replenished is destroying the very systems on which we depend. We have to move to managing resources on nature’s terms and on nature’s scale.”


The Living Planet Index (LPI) shows a downward trend of almost 30 percent (1970-2007) in the state of the earth’s biodiversity.worldwide.

However, trends for tropical and temperate species are starkly divergent. The tropical LPI declined by 60 percent while the temperate LPI increased by almost 30 percent. This increase may be due to a start from a lower baseline, with various species recovering due to improvements in pollution controls and conservation efforts. The tropical LPI starts from a higher baseline and reflects the large-scale ecosystem changes since the 1970 start of the index. These changes outweigh conservation efforts.

The Ecological Footprint of humanity (a) has doubled since 1966, and (b) by 2007 the Footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity – the area actually available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 – by 50 percent.

The Footprint is the area of biologically productive land and water required to provide the renewable resources people use, including the space needed for infrastructure and vegetation to absorb waste carbon dioxide. It also shows a trend of continuous footprint growth, largely attributable to an 11-fold increase in the carbon footprint, (and by over one-third since 1998,) but with enormous differences between countries.

The Water Footprint of Production shows that 71 countries are experiencing stress on blue water sources. This has profound implications for ecosystem health, food production, and human well-being, and is likely toe be exacerbated by climate change.

These indicators clearly demonstrate that the drive for wealth and well-being of the past 40 years have been putting unsustainable pressures on the planet.

The Importance of Ecosystem Services

The three indicators just mentioned do not provide any information on the state of ecosystem services.

All life depends upon Ecosystem Services. These are defined by the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as the benefits obtained from ecosystems, including:
1. Provisioning Services: food, water, medicine, timber, fibre, etc.
2. Regulating Services: water filtration, waste decomposition, crop pollination.
3. Supporting Services: nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, soil formation, etc.
4. Cultural Services: recreation, aesthetic and religious experiences.

Human use of Ecosystem Services create major threats to biodiversity because of:
1. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation.
2. Over-exploitation of wild species populations.
3. Pollution: pesticides, urban-industrial wastes, and excessive fertilizer use.
4. Climate change: from mainly fossil fuel use, forest clearing, and misc. industry.
5. Invasive species: deliberate or inadvertent species transfers from one area to
another, becoming competitors, predators or parasites of native species.

These threats stem from demands for food, water, energy and materials and for space for towns, cities, and infrastructure. Agriculture, water, forestry, energy, mining, etc., cause biodiversity loss. Their impact depends upon population, consumption per person, and technologies.

Biodiversity loss can cause ecosystems to become stressed, degraded, and possibly collapsed.

This threatens ecosystem services, which can lead to further biodiversity losses.

Protected Areas:
These play a vital role in ecosystem preservation. Examples are given.

Biodiversity and People are linked: Examples are described for Costa Rica, Ecuador, Cameroon, Norway, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.


Monitoring Biodiversity: The Living Planet Index. Changes in the health of the planet’s ecosystems is reflected by tracking trends in nearly 8,000 populations of vertebrate species – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The Living Planet Index combines the findings shown by a tropical index and a temperate index. In turn, these are based upon a Terrestrial Living Planet Index, a Marine Living Planet Index, and a Freshwater Living Planet Index. The indices include specifications of upper and lower confidence limits which is very helpful.

Living Planet Indices are developed for five realms worldwide. These are large areas separated by major barriers to plant and animal migration – oceans, deserts, high mountain ranges – where terrestrial species have evolved in relative isolation over long periods of time: Roughly defined, the five areas are (a) North America above the Tropic of Cancer plus Greenland, (b) the balance of the Americas, (c) Europe, Asia and Africa above the Tropic of Cancer, (d) the balance of Africa, and (e) Asia below the Tropic and all Pacific areas including Australia and New Zealand.

Measuring Human Demand: Ecological Footprint.

The Ecological Footprint is an accounting framework that tracks humanity’s competing demands on the biosphere by comparing human demand against the regenerative capacity of the planet. It does this by adding together the areas required to provide renewable resources people use, the areas occupied by infrastructure, and the areas required for absorption of wastes. CO2 is the only waste product currently included in the Footprint study.

To determine whether human demand can be maintained, the Ecological Footprint is compared to the regenerative capacity (biocapacity) of the planet – i.e., the total regenerative capacity available to serve the demand. Both the Footprint and regenerative capacity are expressed in units [invented for this purpose] called global hectares (gha), with one gha representing the productive capacity of one hectare of land at world average productivity.

Every human activity uses biologically productive land and/or fishing grounds. The Ecological Footprint is the sum of this area, regardless where located on the planet. Footprint components are calculated for:
Forest land required to absorb CO2 emissions
Land required for animal grazing
Land required for forest products – paper, wood, etc.
Fishing grounds
Land for housing, transportation, industry, and hydropower.

Ecological overshoot is growing. During the 1970s humanity passed the point at which annual Ecological Footprint matched the Earth’s annual biocapacity. This is called “ecological overshoot.” Ever since this overshoot started it has continued and increased. In 2007 the overshoot was the equivalent of consuming the renewable resources of 1.5 planets, with the overage coming from reductions in the basic stocks of renewable resources.

Ecological Footprints per Person. These are developed for separate nations. A US footprint level for everyone in the world would require the equivalent of 4.5 earths, but if the average were India only one-half an earth would be required. Several other categories are analyzed – economic and national.

Biocapacity: National: A country’s biocapacity is determined by two factors: the area of cropland, grazingland, fishing grounds and forest located within its borders, and the productivity of these lands and waters. Biocapacity calculations are based upon many factors that differ from country to country. Biocapacity available per person declines as population increases.

Graphs show specific footprints and biocapacities for almost all of the world’s nations.

The Water Footprint of Production: This is a measure of the human demand on national water resources as well as a measure of water use in different countries. Calculations are made three types of water:
Greenwater – rainwater that evaporates in the growing of crops , water used
in production of goods, etc.
Blue water – freshwater, surface and ground, use by people.
Grey water – water required to dilute pollutants.

Focus on Our Footprint: Freshwater: Analysis shows that less than 1% of all freshwater is accessible for humans; nevertheless, there is enough water to meet human needs. Attention is given to rivers running dry, water pollution, climate impacts and uncertainty. There is a section on “virtual water” and global trade.

Focus on Our Footprint: Marine Fisheries: Nearly 3 billion people get at least 15% of their average animal protein from fish. Four pages are devoted to overfishing and better management possibilities.

Focus on Our Footprint: Forests: Three pages are devoted to the condition of forests, their declines and regenerations, etc.

Mapping Ecosystem Services: Terrestrial Carbon Storage: Ecosystem services are benefits derived from nature. Any rigorous indicator must account for both supply and use of the service. Indicators are developed for different ecosystem services. Quantification of carbon stocks is an example and is explained.

Mapping a Local Ecosystem Service: Freshwater Provision: An effort is made to show sources of freshwater at local levels.


This is a look at the links between overconsumption, people, and biodiversity.

Biodiversity, Development and Human Well-Being – The relationship between the UN’s Human Development Index and the Ecological Footprint is shown for many nations, ranging from 1.5 global hectares (gha) in Peru to 98 gha in Luxembourg. Two pages are devoted to a “Sustainable Development is Possible” section.

Biodiversity and National Income – Four pages are devoted to country by country comparisons and trade flows.

Modeling the Future: The Ecological Footprint towards 2050: The balance of Chapter 3 provides several different future scenarios approaches.

Six interconnected green economy proposals are presented. The appendices include technical notes and frequently asked questions and answers.

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