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Protecting land is the best tool to address the climate crisis

To preserve wildlife, habitat and mitigate climate change effects, protecting land and water is essential. Many countries, as well as the U.S. federal government and state of California, have pledged to protect 30 percent of all land and water by 2030, also known as the “30×30” initiative.

Achieving this target at the global level will require most countries to rapidly expand protected areas.  A team of researchers at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the National University of Singapore investigated how this ambitious target will benefit conservation and reduce climate change effects.

The researchers modeled several scenarios by which the 30×30 target can be achieved. Using a “scenario analysis” model, different ways of protecting lands were compared, factoring in conservation, climate change, and nutrient regulation.

Their research found that protecting 30 percent of global lands by 2030 will yield huge environmental benefits:

  • Protection of 2.8 million hectares (equal to nearly 7 million acres of land) 
  • 1,000 animal species will be safeguarded because they inhabit these spaces.
  • Half of these species are considered critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, or near-threatened by wildlife experts.

However, the researchers state that while 30 percent is already an ambitious target, 50 percent would be even better.

“We show the environmental benefits nearly double if 50% of global lands are protected. With careful planning, this can also achieve multiple targets across important global policies found in the Paris Agreement and other frameworks,” said Yiwen Zeng.

“For decision makers concerned about the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and sustainability, the single best tool they have to address these issues is to protect nature,” said Professor David S. Wilcove.

To reach this goal, establishing new protected areas will be driven by differing goals and objectives across the world. However, the researchers state that creating protected areas is key to maximizing multiple goals at once. 

This research was supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore under its NRF Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme (NRF-RSS2019-007).

The paper is published in the journal Science Advances.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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