If half the world becomes a protected area, animals can still be saved

Jaguar, Orangutan, and Panda: This fall, participants in the China Biodiversity Summit will decide how to fight the extinction of this endangered species. But even the most ambitious goals may fall short, according to new Dutch research.

Martin van Gestel

A huge area of ​​64 million square kilometers – 44 percent of the Earth’s total area – needs some or all of protection to save endangered species worldwide. This is evidenced by a large-scale study by nineteen international scientists led by the University of Amsterdam and published this month in Sciences

Globally, countries need to set more ambitious goals to end the current biodiversity crisis. Currently, the global standard is to hold 17 percent of the land as a protected area. A number of countries are calling for a more ambitious 30 percent target at the Diversity Summit later this year in Kunming, China. But according to researchers at the UvA, protecting 44 percent is “currently the best estimate of how much land we need to conserve to stem the biodiversity crisis.”

The method used by the researchers is remarkable. Assistant Professor Daniel Kissling of the UvA, who oversaw the project, explained that they looked at all available data on the habitats of more than 35,000 animal species. This data was then linked to a smart computer program, which was instructed to calculate the smallest possible areas to protect as many species as possible.

The main differences between countries

The differences between countries and continents that have to do (additional) protection of nature appear to be significant. For example, about 64 percent of the land in North America needs protection, compared to about 33 percent in Europe. Much of it is already protected, but in Europe, for example, more attention is needed in Portugal, Greece and Italy. In some countries, the need is particularly high: in Suriname, for example, 84 percent of the country must be protected due to the endangered animal species in the rainforest.

Researchers from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands see their world map as a “Plan for Preserving the Planet”. They say there is a lot of urgency about this. “In the coming years, people are expected to use only 1.3 million kilometers of an area in need of protection, for example for agriculture,” Kissling says. “Especially in developing countries.”

Kissling says the upcoming Biodiversity Summit should look at how richer countries contribute to preserving species in poorer countries. Koenrad Krieger, director of IUCN Nederland, the umbrella organization that publishes, among other things, Red Lists of Threatened Species agrees. “This is partly because the pressure on biodiversity comes disproportionately from industrialized countries, such as the Netherlands.”

Partial protection is also possible

According to Kissling, protecting animal habitats does not always mean that an area should be designated as a protected nature reserve, such as the Natura 2000 areas in the Netherlands, which are subject to countless laws. This is also not possible: 1.9 billion people live in the areas indicated by the research. Partial protection is also possible. Think more sustainable agriculture, or indigenous peoples themselves ensuring effective protection of biodiversity in the areas where they live.”

Biodiversity expert Avki Sheber of Radboud University, who was not involved in the research, is pleased with the timing of the science publication. “Almost none of the previous biodiversity targets were achieved,” she says. “We hope this will provide valuable input for a better approach.” According to Schipper, the find is distinguished primarily because of its size. It emphasizes that endangered plant species are not included. “If they had done that, they might have come up with a higher percentage.”

According to IUCN’s Krijger, the Dutch government should take the upcoming diversity summit as seriously as the Paris climate summit in 2015. He believes Prime Minister Mark Rutte should travel to Kunming himself. “This research shows that 30 per cent Dutch commitment may not be enough, or at least really the bottom line.”

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Megan Vasquez

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