A study published in Science suggests that 44% of the land on Earth – around 64 million square kilometers – requires conservation to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services.
“Our study is the current best estimate of how much land we must conserve to stop the biodiversity crisis – it is essentially a conservation plan for the planet. We must act fast, our models show that over 1.3 million km2 of this important land – an area larger than South Africa – is likely to have its habitat cleared for human uses by 2030, which would be devastating for wildlife,” said James Allan, the lead author of the study belonging to Amsterdam University. Allan’s team took the help of advanced geospatial algorithms to map the optimal areas for conserving terrestrial species and ecosystems around the world.
The work is also important from the perspective of policy formulations. Governments are planning a post-2020 biodiversity framework on a global scale under the convention of biological diversity. This has new goals and targets for biodiversity conservation and is most likely to come later this year. Experts think the convention will set the agenda for at least the next decade. Under it, governments will have to produce reports about achieving the targets regularly.
Kendall Jones, a co-author of the study belonging to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, USA and a conservation specialist, explained the need for such efforts.
“More than a decade ago, governments set a global target to conserve at least 17% of terrestrial areas through protected areas and other site-based approaches for improving the status of biodiversity and ecosystems. However, by 2020 it was clear that this was not enough for halting biodiversity declines and averting the biodiversity crisis.”
The current discussion about the conservation of terrestrial land hovers around the targets aimed to be realized by 2030, which proposes that nations conserve 30% of their land through ‘protected areas’ and other conservation approaches. However, Jones emphasizes that the time has come to go beyond the 30% conservation mark.
“If nations are serious about safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem services that underpin life on Earth, they need immediately to scale up their conservation efforts, not only in extent and intensity but also in effectiveness,” Jones reiterated.
However, the research authors also suggest that all the identified land need not be declared as protected land. There can be numerous creatively crafted strategies for species and ecosystem conservation. This may include effective, sustainable land use policies and effective area-based conservation measures.
Jones also pointed out some crucial aspects that need to be considered while drafting conservation policies, like the self-determination of communities and their rights.
“Conservation actions that promote the autonomy and self-determination of people living on this land whilst maintaining ecological integrity are crucial. We have many effective conservation tools available, from empowering Indigenous Peoples to manage their natural environment to policies that limit deforestation or provide sustainable livelihood options and protected areas.”