The Current

Two-thirds of wildlife may disappear by 2020 — because of humans, says WWF

The planet's biodiversity is under attack. New numbers tracking wildlife species over the past half-century reveal a dire prediction — two-thirds of wildlife will disappear by 2020. Is there anything that can be done to reverse the trend?

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Earlier this week, a new report by the WWF reveals two-thirds of the world's wildlife will disappear by 2020.

The culprit is human activity according to a WWF press release that says, "people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth's history, and highlights the changes needed in the way society is fed, fuelled and financed."

The report, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, tracked wildlife populations since 1970 and found 60 per cent of the world's wildlife have already disappeared since then. 

James Snider, vice-president of science, research and innovation at WWF-Canada tells The Current's guest host Dave Seglins the numbers are a wake-up call.

"What's probably most worrisome is that these trends are worsening," Snider says of declining wildlife biodiversity trends in the past.

Snider says the study looks at a broad range of species, more than 3,700  around the world.

"In our last report in 2014, we saw a decline of 52 per cent and today in 2016, it's 58 per cent. So the trend is in fact going in the wrong direction."

"If that trend continues by 2020 which is not far off — only four years from now really — we could see declines as much as two-thirds of the world's wildlife populations."

Snider tells Seglins that while not all two-thirds of the world's wildlife are going extinct, it's important to note the number of species reduce.

In September, the giant panda was taken off the endangered species list after a recovery in China. (Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty)

"These populations become smaller, they become at higher risk for extinction for expiration because they are more vulnerable to those changes."

In Canada, Snider says the migratory tundra caribou are most at risk of declining in numbers.

"We've seen declines in some of the herds of these barren-ground caribou as more than 95 per cent," says Snider.

"And as a whole, barren-ground caribou  have been reduced by more than half."

The decline of this iconic species is of historically high significance right across the country, Snider tells Seglins.

In Canada, the species at great risk is the caribou. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Snider points to a looming threat of climate change, temperatures changing as well as industrial development encroaching on areas on calving areas where caribou have their young as some of the reasons for the decline.

Although there is a lot of work to do, Snider is optimistic for the future.

"I think that the changes that we need to make as a society as humanity globally can be made."

"And so as a nation there's an opportunity for Canada now to transition to renewable energy in a habitat-friendly way to minimize those impacts on biodiversity."

Listen to the full conversation.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Sujata Berry.