A long list of environmental issues needs serious attention. But none may be more fundamental than preserving land and water to maintain biodiversity and help slow climate change. A recent report shows just how well humanity is doing on one of those goals. In the last decade, some 8.1 million square miles have been added as parks or conservation areas.
That’s an area larger than Russia, a country that spans 11 time zones.
To give that success a different perspective, of all the land ever protected and conserved by official action, 42% was in the past decade. That pace of problem-solving sets a good example of what can be done with other global challenges.
As of 2020, some 17% of the world’s landmass is protected from development. That meets a goal set in 2010 at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan. The convention also sought to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. That mark was missed; nonetheless, 7.74% of coastal and ocean waters are now protected, according to the 2020 Protected Planet Report.
This October, new goals for protecting additional land and water will be negotiated at the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China. Dr. Bruno Oberle, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Gland, Switzerland, is urging the conference to set a goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land, fresh water, and oceans by 2030. “And these areas must be placed optimally to protect the diversity of life on Earth and be effectively managed and equitably governed,” he adds. Britain already has committed to protecting 30% of its land by 2030 with new parks and protection of “areas of outstanding natural beauty.”
Land protection comes with its own challenges. The areas must be properly supervised. And local people living near them must not bear all the costs of protecting them when the benefits will be widely shared. Protected regions also will be more effective if they can be connected to other protected regions, allowing wildlife to migrate between them.
After centuries of rapid human expansion on the planet, humanity may have turned a corner and decided to balance human development and the land that sustains it. A healthy resiliency for both depends on that task. The recent success in land conservation is a model for what can still be done.