Human demands on natural resources have doubled in less than 50 years and are now outstripping the resources of earth by more than half, an authoritative new report has warned.
The Living Planet Report, published every two years, adds that if humankind carries on as it is doing in use of resources, it will need the resources of two earths to sustain this level of consumption by 2030.
The report, from the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature, better known by its old nomenclature of World Wildlife Fund), supported by the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, adds that wildlife is under huge pressure in the bio-diverse but rapidly developing tropical countries, with populations of various species falling by 60 per cent since 1980.
Iconic animals like the tiger, turtles, and the great apes, as well as hundreds of birds such as the white-rumped vulture are in danger of going extinct, as well as thousands of lesser-known animals.
Freshwater species in the tropics are down a disastrous 70 per cent, with animals like the Amazon River pink dolphin, India's famous Gharial crocodile, and the fresh-water dolphin of the Ganges already on th verge of disappearing forever.
The report blames the rate of human consumption, which has doubled in under fifty years, resulting in rainforests being cut down, the seas over-fished and grassland ploughed up for farming.
The study's authors looked at 8,000 populations of 2,500 species, and studied the change in land use and water consumption across the globe.
Rich robbing the poor
The world's people are now living lifestyles which would require one and a half planets to sustain, though there are significant differences between rich and poor nations. The exotic birds and animals of the tropics are disappearing at a catastrophic rate as the rich world strips poor countries of their natural resources, the report warns.
Wildlife in temperate climates has actually increased by 30 per cent in the last 40 years, as countries like Britain seek to protect species.
David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF UK, said the disparity was caused by the rich world plundering the resources of the poor world while protecting the environment in their own backyard.
He warned that if the trend continues the world will run not only run out of natural resources, but damage the 'ecosystem services' such as water cycles and clean air that all humans rely on.
''The loss of biodiversity and habitats undermines the natural systems upon which we depend for the food we eat, the air we breathe and the stable climate we need. The depletion of natural resources poses a major risk to our economic security because scarcity of resources and degraded natural systems will increase the price of food, raw materials and other commodities – for both producers and consumers,'' he said.
The WWF calculated the 'ecological footprint' of each country by measuring the amount of carbon, water and other resources consumed by an average person.
Overall the world is using 50 per cent more of the planet's resources than earth can supply, it concluded.
Rich countries like Britain are using three times the amount of resources than the planet can sustain, while countries in Africa use a fraction of what they are entitled to.
Nussbaum said people in rich countries are consuming more because most of the food and products in their homes are now manufactured from raw materials found in the tropics - for example green beans flown from Kenya, or cotton shirts manufactured in Bangladesh.
There is also a new trend for 'land grabbing', where rich countries with a high ecological footprint are buying up huge areas of the poor world to grow crops because they have run out of food and water.
Nussbaum said governments should be moving towards a green economy where energy is generated from wind or solar sources. ''We have to recognise that our responsibility to the planet is not just about protecting the nature where we live but protecting nature around the world and making sure everybody can benefit from what nature provides for us," he said.