Safeguarding Biodiversity Means Conserving 44% of Earth’s Land

Safeguarding biodiversity is crucial for the survival of Humanity and the entire ecosphere. Find out why new research calls for governments to increase global land conservation from 17% to 44% if we’re serious about preserving Earth’s ecosystems.

Our family cottage is very close to the Bruce Peninsula National Park. The park includes a popular beach called Singing Sands.

When we first started heading up to The Bruce, Parks Canada hadn’t formed the national park yet. What’s now called Singing Sands was a wildlife preserve called Dorcas Bay that the Federation of Ontario Naturalists had established.

As a boy, I remember reading a rustic wooden plaque at Dorcas Bay commemorating a visit by the legendary pioneer naturalist John Muir. Muir was one of the first advocates for safeguarding biodiversity and was instrumental in hatching the idea of national parks.

Set Aside 64 Million Square Kilometres of Earth’s Land Area

All of this came to mind this week because of new research the journal Science has published. It shows that if we’re serious about wildlife conservation, we need to set aside about 64 million square kilometres of Earth’s land area.

These huge numbers are always hard to fathom, so to put in in perspective, that’s about 44% of Earth’s total land area. This news comes as governments are hammering out a post-2020 global biological framework for the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on Biological Diversity.

At the landmark Rio Earth Summit back in 1992, 150 heads of government signed the Convention for Biological Diversity. The international agreement has three objectives:

  1. The conservation of biological diversity
  2. The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  3. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources

New Global Biodiversity Framework for the Next Decade

A working group has been holding a series of meetings to draft a new global biodiversity framework for the next decade. Their next round of talks will take place later this month, and the plan calls for the countries to adopt the new framework by the end of this year.

So, it’s timely that the research team, which Dr. James R. Allan of the University of Amsterdam leads, has published this study estimating the land conservation requirement for safeguarding biodiversity.

The researchers used geospatial computer algorithms to map out the best places to conserve land species and their habitats around the world. They compared that with projected scenarios for land use to measure how much of that habitat is threatened by human activities over the next decade.

“Essentially a Conservation Plan for the Planet”

“It is essentially a conservation plan for the planet,” professor Allan explained. “An area larger than South Africa is likely to have its habitat cleared for human uses by 2030, which would be devastating for wildlife.”

Dr. Kendall Jones is a Conservation Planning Specialist at the Wildlife Conservaton Society and a co-author of the study. He added, “More than a decade ago, governments set a global target to conserve at least 17 percent 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 rule of thumb these days has been that safeguarding biodiversity means governments should raise that 17% conservation target to 30%. However, Professor Jones doesn’t think even that goes far enough.

“More Ambitious Goals and Policies Are Crucial”

“More ambitious goals and policies to maintain ecological integrity beyond this 30% target are crucial. If nations are serious about safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem services that underpin life on Earth, then they need immediately to scale-up their conservation efforts,” he said

In addition to recommending the more ambitious 44% target, the study sets out the facts policymakers will need to renew their countries’ conservation plans. The study explains that safeguarding biodiversity isn’t necessarily a matter of of strictly closing off all this land in protected areas.

Instead, the researchers call for a spectrum of possible biodiversity strategies. These include more flexible conservation measures and sustainable land use policies.

We’re the Most Destrimental Invasive Species on the Planet

Humanity’s impact on Nature has been disastrous. We’ve become the most detrimental invasive species on the planet.

In fact, we’ve become such a far-reaching influence on the ecosphere that many scientists are proposing a new geological epoch. They suggest that the Holocene epoch is over and that Earth is now in an intensely human-dominated epoch they want to call the Anthropocene.

We Need to Transition Out of this Exploitation Mentality

To save ourselves and perhaps the entire ecosphere, we need to transition out of this exploitaiton mentality and create a New Story that will launch a period that philosopher Thomas Berry once called the Ecozoic.

This would be a paradigm shift in which we came to see ourselves as part of an interrelated web of life. Instead of having dominion over other species, we would view them as our peers – members of the same family.

Regardless of the name we give this period in Earth’s natural history, safeguarding biodiversity requires that our ruthless exploitation come to an end. Humanity has to let go of its view of Nature as something to be endlessly extracted and consumed.

Science tells us that all species on Earth share one common ancestor. So, thinking of the biosphere as a family isn’t merely some kind of romantic notion. In a very practical way, we’re all related.

the Biosphere as a Family Is More Than Mere Hyperbole

Indigenous people understand safeguarding biodiversity in ways our industrial cultures seem to have forgotten. Professor Allan recognizes this.

He wrapped things up saying, “We have many effective conservation tools available, from empowering Indigenous Peoples to manage their natural environment, through to policies that limit deforestation or provide sustainable livelihood options, and of course protected areas.”

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
Learn more:
Scientists Show that at Least 44 Percent of Earth’s Land Requires Conservation to Safeguard Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
The minimum land area requiring conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity
Biodiversity Always Wins
“Making Peace with Nature” Report Offers Sustainable Blueprint
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History – A Review


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