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For wealthy countries, a mixed environmental report card

Reintroduced in Saskatchewan, the black-footed ferret is an example of increasing biodiversity in developed countries.


The world's wealthier countries are still depleting the Earth's resources at a faster rate than their poorer counterparts, but improved conservation efforts in the developed world are helping once-plummeting animal populations to recover.

The findings are contained in the 2010 Living Planet Report, a study by the World Wildlife Fund that tracks trends in global biodiversity since 1970 and calculates humanity's ecological footprint.

In the past 40 years, the world's biodiversity has fallen by roughly 30 per cent. The largest losses occurred in the developing world while, overall, wealthier nations held steady or increased biodiversity.

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This is largely because poorer countries began developing later, while wealthier countries, after decades of destroying habitat and driving wildlife to extinction, have started successful environmental preservation programs.

The region encompassing Canada and the United States saw a loss of about 4 per cent, while the region that covers Europe and parts of the Middle East gained by 43 per cent.

"We have done many of the right things in the last 40 years. Water quality is getting better. … Forests are being better managed," said Steven Price, WWF Canada's senior director of conservation science and practice. "We've already eaten up the natural capital in Europe, but you're starting to see recovery."

In Canada, for example, the government reintroduced the black-footed ferret to the Saskatchewan prairie last year, more than 70 years after it was extirpated from the area. The program has shown signs of success, with a documentary crew filming a litter of wild-born ferrets this past summer.

Overall, however, wealthy countries still account for a proportionately larger share of humanity's ecological footprint, which measures everything from the forest required to collect our carbon to the amount of land used for agriculture. The 31 members of the well-off Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development made up 37 per cent of the total, while countries in Africa and Southeast Asia together chalked up only 12 per cent.

Canadians have the seventh-largest footprint per person - slightly smaller than that of Estonians and slightly larger than that of Australians - according to the report, with carbon as the top factor.

And there's a relationship between the large footprints of wealthy countries and the loss of biodiversity in poorer ones, as many of the things wealthy countries consume, such as timber, come from the developing world.

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"Our [own]realms are doing well, but we're consuming from elsewhere," Mr. Price said. "So much of what we take for granted comes from another part of the world."

The report is released every two years, and expresses biodiversity through the Living Planet Index, which tracks trends in thousands of animal species.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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