Conservation study finds ‘quick and decisive’ action can protect HALF of Earth’s land


CONSERVATION measures can still save half of Earth’s ice-free land, a new study has revealed.

Approximately half of Earth’s ice-free land untouched by humans can still be saved with swift conservation measures, a landmark new study suggests. US researchers compared four recent global maps showing the conversion of natural lands to “anthropogenic land” – those exploited by mankind.

The good news is somewhere between 48 and 56 percent of Earth not covered with ice shows “low” influence of humans.

The more impacted half of Earth’s lands, meanwhile, includes cities, croplands and intensively ranched or mined areas.

However, researchers believe humans can still conserve approximately half of Earth’s land for good, instead of exploiting its natural resources.

Intact natural lands are able to purify air and water, recycle nutrients, improve soil fertility and retention, pollinate plants and break down waste – services worth trillions of US dollars annually.

Jason Riggio, of the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and the study’s lead author, said: “The encouraging takeaway from this study is that if we act quickly and decisively, there is a slim window in which we can still conserve roughly half of Earth’s land in a relatively intact state.”

Approximately 15 percent of the Earth’s land surface and 10 percent of the oceans are currently protected in some form.

However, governments are charged with protecting 30 percent of the land and water combined by 2030, rising to 50 percent by 2050.

Leading up to the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties 15, there is growing consensus around establishing “bold” conservation targets, according to the researchers.

This meeting was scheduled to take place in China this autumn but was postponed to the second quarter of 2021 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Among the meeting’s goals was to establish specific targets for land and water protection.

However, it had remained unclear how much of Earth’s land area remains without significant footprints of human influence and where this land is located – something this new study set out to clarify.

The team used four different methods of spatial assessment to estimate percentages of the Earth’s terrestrial surface.

Between 20 and 34 percent of Earth’s land was shown to have “very low” human influence, while 48 to 56 percent in total showed “low” human influence.

Three quarters of spatial assessments, each with different datasets, agreed on 46 per cent of non‐permanent ice‐ or snow‐covered land possessing low human influence.

Among the largest low-impact areas are broad stretches of boreal forests and tundra across northern Asia and North America.

Other areas include the vast deserts such as Africa’s Sahara and the Australian outback.

Human land use is increasingly threatening Earth’s remaining natural habitats, especially in warmer and more hospitable areas, but nearly half of Earth still remains in areas without large-scale intensive use.

Areas with low human influence do not necessarily exclude people, livestock or sustainable management of resources – meaning they are in danger of future exploitation.

A conservation response able to balance agriculture and resource needs with the protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity is essential, the research team warn.

Dr Riggio said: “Achieving this balance will be necessary if we hope to meet ambitious conservation targets.

“But our study optimistically shows that these targets are still within reach.”

There is a slim window in which we can still conserve roughly half of Earth’s land


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