The UK is “complicit” in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, conservationists have warned, as they called for immediate action to halt wildlife declines.
WWF’s Living Planet report, which charts the fortunes of thousands of species around the world, said declines in wildlife population sizes are most severe in Latin America, which includes the world’s biggest rainforest.
The conservation charity is calling for legislation to stop commodities that drive deforestation in the Amazon and other parts of the world ending up on UK supermarket shelves.
The 94% fall in wildlife populations in the Latin America region has been partly caused by the loss of habitat to make way for agricultural production and resource extraction, including illegal gold mining, the conservation charity said.
The Amazon faces a rapidly approaching “tipping point”, where it ceases to function as a rainforest, hitting rainfall patterns, agriculture and energy supplies in the region, and putting the fight to avoid dangerous climate change at risk.
Dr Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF, said deforestation he had recently witnessed in the Amazon, on the border between Brazil and Peru, was due to economic demand for products linked to deforestation.
“It’s driven by both domestic and international trade, whether that’s illegally mined gold or agricultural produce, such as soy,” he said.
“I’m afraid the UK is a market for this, we’re actually the third biggest importer of gold from the region.
“That means that we here in the UK are completely complicit in what is happening there.”
The gold is imported for various products including jewellery, he said.
Dr Barrett added: “We have a now or never moment, we have got to legislate to get deforesting commodities off the supermarket shelves in the UK.”
He said there is also a need to switch investment in unsustainable agriculture around the world into sustainable farming, for example, by rehabilitating abandoned land in areas south of the Amazon so it can be used for production.
He said consumers could play a role by trying to select products on supermarket shelves that do not have a deforestation footprint, but added: “It’s outrageous that we should have to go into a supermarket and make those choices.
“There should be nothing on the supermarket shelf that has driven deforestation, and that’s why we need the regulations, that’s why we need legislation as soon as possible.”
WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said the UK, like many other countries, is in the midst of a “dreadful” cost-of-living crisis, some of which has been caused by an over-reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels, through energy and food price rises.
“But we also have to ask our Government to step into this crisis because we know the science is horrible clear, and this isn’t something that we can necessarily delay steps or action on now.”
She called on the Government to continue the ambitious agenda it has had to date, starting by legislating to remove deforestation products from UK shelves, and requiring banks to align their funding to efforts to cut emissions.
Ministers must support British farmers to farm sustainably and bring nature back, and the UK must play a leading role in the international nature Cop15 meeting in Montreal in December to secure an action plan to ensure nature is starting to recover by the end of this decade, she said.