According to the new world map of nature that we have just published in Nature, 94% of the remaining natural spaces are found in only 20 countries, not including the high seas and Antarctica.
A century ago, natural spaces stretched across almost the entire planet. Nowadays, only 23% of the surface – on the margin of Antarctica and 13% of the oceans are exempt from the harmful effects of human activity.
More than 70% of the natural areas are found in only five countries: Australia, Russia, Canada, the United States (Alaska) and Brazil. We can still save nature. But it will depend on the steps taken (or not) by these supernatural countries to ensure the future of the last virgin spaces on Earth.
The natural spaces are vast expanses of land and sea untamed and unaltered. Wherever you are, from the lowland jungles of Papua New Guinea, the high forests of the Russian Arctic taiga or the vast deserts of the interior of Australia to areas of the Pacific, the Antarctic and the Indian, these areas are the last strengths for endangered species and exercise vital functions for the planet, such as storing carbon, minimizing the effects of climate change.
In many natural spaces, indigenous people, who are often the most marginalized politically and economically, depend on them for their ways of life and their cultures.
However, despite being important and being so threatened, international environmental policy overlooks natural spaces and their values.
In most countries, nature has not been formally defined, mapped, or protected. Which means that there is nothing that obliges to render accounts on the conservation of the natural spaces to the governments, the industries and the local societies.
Almost two thirds of the marine natural spaces are found in international waters, beyond the immediate control of the countries. This, in effect, makes it a wild west sea , where fishing fleets have a free bar. There are certain laws that regulate fishing in these areas, but there is no binding agreement for conservation on the high seas, although the United Nations is negotiating such a treaty . It is crucial to ensure that marine nature can not be exploited.
And we can not forget Antarctica, which is the largest natural space on Earth and one of the last places on the planet in whose extensive regions the human being has not set foot.
Although the isolation and extreme climate of Antarctica have helped to protect it from the degradation that other places have suffered, climate change, human activity, pollution and invasive species increasingly threaten the fauna and natural spaces of the continent.
Antarctic Treaty signatories must comply with their commitments to help reduce human impact. Global carbon emissions must be urgently reduced before it is too late.
[Editor’s note: The news is not rosy. On November 2, the Antarctic Ocean Commission ( CCAMLR ) did not reach an agreement to create a protected area in Antarctica of 1.8 million square kilometers. China, Russia and Norway rejected the creation of this great reserve .]
Our map shows the few natural spaces that remain and how much has been lost in recent decades. It is hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009 the impressive amount of 3.3 million square kilometers of terrestrial natural spaces was lost, a larger area than India, due to human settlements, agriculture, mining and other activities.
In the ocean, the only regions free of industrial fishing, pollution and ships are the poles and the remote island states of the Pacific.
Almost all countries have signed international environmental agreements aimed at ending the biodiversity crisis, as well as dangerous climate change. The agreements also aim to achieve the global objectives of sustainable development.
At the Biodiversity Summit (COP14), which will take place from November 13 to 27, 2018 in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh, the 196 signatories of the Convention on Biodiversity will work with scientists to develop a strategic plan for biodiversity. conservation beyond 2020. It is a unique opportunity for all nations to recognize that natural spaces are disappearing and to demand their conservation.
Preserving 100% of the remaining natural spaces is possible, although it would be necessary to prevent industrial activities such as mining, forestry and fishing from expanding to new areas. But if countries expressly commit themselves to this goal, it would be easier for governments and non-governmental organizations to obtain funding and apply the relevant measures in developing countries.
Similarly, the roles of wild spaces in protecting ourselves from climate change, such as storing huge amounts of carbon, could also be properly documented in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). , whose annual conference will take place in early December in Poland. This would encourage countries to focus their strategies on the protection of natural spaces.
Tools such as REDD + , which allows developing countries to claim compensation for conserving the tropical forests they were going to destroy, could be extended to other natural areas rich in carbon, such as virgin seagrass beds. Also to the natural spaces of rich countries that do not receive aid for the fight against climate change, such as the Canadian tundra.
Countries have many opportunities, through legislation and with rewards for good behavior, to avoid the expansion of roads and maritime routes, and to impose limits on large-scale development and industrial fishing in natural areas. They can also establish protected areas to stop the expansion of industrial activity towards the natural spaces.
New approaches must be adopted, and the private sector must collaborate with governments so that the industry protects natural spaces instead of damaging them. The key will be financing and operating criteria for organizations such as the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation and regional development banks.
Our planet not only faces a crisis due to the extinction of species, but also due to the disappearance of natural spaces. Once they are lost, they will never come back. This may be our last chance to save what’s left. And we can not waste it.