The most important part of the report - The Living Planet Index (LPI) - presents new data on the health of the forest, freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world from 1970-1995. The report also contains a measure of the burden placed on natural ecosystems by humanity, Consumption Pressure, based on per capita resource consumption and pollution statistics from 152 countries.
WWF hopes that the LPI will become the Dow Jones Index of the global environment. The LPI tries to measure how much nature is left in the world, said Jorgen Randers, Deputy Director General of WWF International. If it goes down, it means that globally we are over-consuming natural resources and producing too much pollution; if it stays stable or goes up, then we are living within our means.
One of the report's most alarming findings is that freshwater ecosystems declined by 50 per cent from 1970 to 1995, with an average rate of decline of almost 6 per cent per year between 1990 and 1995. Marine ecosystems deteriorated by 30 per cent from 1970 to 1995, with an average rate of nearly 4 per cent per year from 1990 to 1995. The world's natural forest cover declined by about 10 per cent from 1970 to 1995, and has been declining on average by 0.5 per cent per year since the 1960s. This is the equivalent to an annual loss of forest the size of England and Wales.
These figures are a stark indication of the deteriorating health of natural ecosystems, said Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the report, Most concerning of all is the decline of freshwater lakes, rivers and wetlands - these are among the most productive and diverse environments in the world, but until now they have received far less attention than either forests or oceans.
The report was produced by WWF in association with the New Economics Foundation and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and will be published annually. It suggests clear alternatives on how governments, industry, businesses and consumers can help play their part reducing pressure on the natural environment and slowing the decline of the Living Planet Index.
Other findings from the report include:
* Consumption Pressure is very unevenly distributed around the world - the average person in OECD countries exerts 2.5 times more pressure than an individual in the rest of the world. Globally, Consumption Pressure is growing rapidly - at about 5 per cent per year.
* Marine fish consumption has more than doubled since 1960 and most of the worlds fish resources are either fully exploited or in decline.
* Wood and paper consumption have increased by two-thirds worldwide since 1960 and, although the world's forests are probably capable of providing sufficient wood to meet this level of demand, most forests are managed unsustainably.
* Freshwater withdrawals have almost doubled since 1960 and it is estimated that we already use more than half of the world's accessible freshwater supply.
* CO2 emissions have more than doubled since the 1960s and are far in excess of the biosphere's capacity to reabsorb carbon dioxide.
For more information please contact: Alison Lucas +44 1483 419266 or mobile +44 468 688011; Denise Meredith +44 181 255 8706 or Karen Flanders at +41 22 364 9291 or Jonathan Loh +41 22 364 9505.