Environmental group WWF has warned of an "ecological credit crunch" caused by humans' "rampant" use of the planet's resources.
Its biannual Living Planet report out today says demand for resources exceeds the planet's capacity to replenish its "natural capital" by 30 per cent.
Use of resources including water, energy, agricultural crops, timber and paper, food and even land for infrastructure is having a devastating effect on Earth's wildlife, the report says.
It notes nearly 1,700 species have declined by an average of 30 per cent since 1970 and warns the availability of fresh water is of increasing concern.
"Our natural environment is already bowing under this pressure," WWF's head of campaigns Colin Butfiled said.
"The danger is that the ecological recession will be followed by a widespread and irreversible breakdown in our most important natural systems."
Tropical species have suffered especially badly since the 1970s, with the average fall in populations at 51 per cent.
But it is developed countries like the US and United Arab Emirates which have the biggest ecological impact.
The UK comes in 15th, with the average UK citizen having almost four times more impact on the planet than the average African.
David Norman, director of campaigns at WWF-UK, insisted he believed a sustainable world "is not an unachievable goal", however.
He said: "As the world looks to restore its economies we must build in long-term environmental as well as economic sustainability."
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