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World Conservation Day: Can we stop the biodiversity crisis?

A new study led by the University of Amsterdam (UvA) argues that rapid increases in the scope and effectiveness of global conservation efforts are crucial for maintaining our planet’s ecological integrity. The experts have found that, in order to safeguard biodiversity, 44 percent of the Earth’s land area – about 64 million square kilometers or 24.7 million square miles – requires conservation. 

The scientists used advanced geospatial algorithms to map the optimal areas for conserving terrestrial species and ecosystems around the globe, and employed explicit land-use scenarios to assess how much of this land is at risk from anthropogenic activities by the end of this decade.

“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,” explained study lead author James Allan, a conservation scientist at UvA. “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.”

While over a decade ago, governments set a global target to conserve at least 17 percent of terrestrial ecosystems through protected areas and other site-based approaches to safeguard biodiversity, by 2020 it was obvious that this target was too low to stop biodiversity declines and avert a massive biodiversity crisis. Yet, the new target recently set by governmental organizations (30 percent) appears to be still insufficient.

“While this is a great step in the right direction, our study suggests that more ambitious goals and policies to maintain ecological integrity beyond this 30 percent target are crucial,” said study co-author Kendall Jones, a conservation planning specialist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “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, not only in extent and intensity but also in effectiveness.” 

According to the scientists, all this identified land should not necessarily be designed as protected areas, but rather managed through a variety of strategies, including other effective area-based conservation measures, or sustainable land-use policies.

“Conservation actions that promote the autonomy and self-determination of people living on this land, whilst also maintaining ecological integrity are crucial,” said Dr. Allan. “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.”

The study is published in the journal Science.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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