A group of researchers have prepared the first comprehensive global-scale analysis of the terrestrial areas essential for biodiversity conservation and climate resilience. The ‘Global Safety Net’ (GSN), as it is being called, has identified 50.4 per cent of land to be conserved to reverse further biodiversity loss, prevent carbon dioxide emissions and enhance natural carbon removal. The report, published in Science Advances, says that 15.1 per cent of the land area is already protected by governments around the world, hence an additional 35.3 per cent of land is required to conserve sites of particular importance for biodiversity and stabilise the climate (Dinerstein et al 2020).
Through this digital map, researchers have set three targets: conservation of unprotected biodiversity, enhancing carbon storage and drawdown, and finally, protecting wildlife and climate corridors. The research paper emphasises that conservation of the biosphere and limiting climate change are intertwined.
The Targets Set
Consequently, the target set under the UN Convention of Biological Diversity and target set under the Paris Climate Change Agreement is also interlinked. ‘The two conventions are intertwined. There is a very finite amount of natural land that could be converted to human uses before we lose the 1.5°C window. Therefore, we need to protect all remaining natural lands by 2030 – approximately 50 per cent of the Earth – in order to save biodiversity and stabilise our global climate system,’ says Karl Burkart of One Earth, an organisation that is part of the study (Burkart 2020).
In this context, the digital map has identified certain areas where increased conservation effort is needed so that adequate carbon storage systems are generated. The paper further says that only half of the 15.1 per cent terrestrial protected areas are connected. If habitats are managed and corridors are restored then species movement will increase and so will the conservation area.
To achieve the target, the global safety net identifies unprotected areas needed to conserve so that the target of an additional 35.3 per cent protected areas is achieved. These unprotected areas are sites of species rarity (2.3 per cent), sites of distinct plant and animal species assemblages (6.0 per cent) vital for maintaining ecosystem, sites of rare phenomenon (6.3 per cent), sites of intactness (16 per cent) and climate stabilisation areas (4.7 per cent).
India and Global Safety Net
According to the digital map, 5.8 per cent (18,333 ha) land area is protected in India, while the global average is 15.1 per cent. In India, the map identifies 2.3 per cent (7,211 ha) additional rare species sites, 2.1 per cent (6,617 ha) additional high biodiversity areas, 0.6 per cent (1,980 ha) additional intact wilderness areas and 1.6 per cent (4,932 ha) additional climate stabilisation areas. The total project global safety net area in India is 12.3 per cent (39,100 ha).
One may ask, how an additional 35.3 per cent land can be eked out at the time when human settlement and industrial infrastructure is already encroaching the protected areas bypassing rules and regulations. Researchers do not advocate pulling agricultural land out of production or removing indigenous or other people from their lands. They provide alternate solutions.
The research paper says that degraded landscapes could be restored to address both climate and biodiversity concerns. For instance, Nepal engaged in an intensive community forest programme which led to doubling the forest cover in 24 years from 26 per cent of land area in 1992 to 45 per cent in 2016 (Gill 2019). It also talks about restoring the forests using native plants. Another solution, as mentioned earlier, is to reconnect wildlife corridors to connect the vital ecosystems.
The paper recommends a ‘common but differentiated’ approach for area-based targets under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A common but differentiated approach, which is also part of the Paris Climate Agreement, means a different approach adopted by individual countries for the common goal of biosphere conservation (UNFCCC n.d.). In a sense, it expects a unique approach by countries to achieve the collective goal of safeguarding the biosphere and ecosystem on the line of ‘think globally, act locally.’
To increase the protected area from 15.1 per cent to 50.4 per cent is an ambitious target. At a time when wildlife habitats are being destroyed for economical gain, human settlements and agriculture fields are replacing the forest areas, the target may look unrealistic. However, if we want the only living planet to remain liveable, then the coexistence between human life and wildlife habitats has to be addressed. For this to happen, humans have to balance between need and greed.
Dinerstein E., A. R. Joshi, C. Vynne, A. T. L. Lee and F. Pharand-Deschênes. 2020. A “Global Safety Net” to Reverse Biodiversity Loss and Stabilize Earth’s climate, Science Advances, 6(36): 2824. Available at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/36/eabb2824
Burkart K. 2020. The Global Safety Net: a ‘Blueprint’ to Save Critical Ecosystems and Stabilize the Earth’s Climate, One Earth, September 10. Available at: https://www.oneearth.org/the-global-safety-net-a-blueprint-to-save-critical-ecosystems-and-stabilize-the-earths-climate/
Gill P. 2019. Community Management, Outmigration Help Nepal Double Forest Area, Inter Press Service, September 19. Available at: http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/09/community-management-outmigration-help-nepal-double-forest-area/
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). n.d. Introduction to Climate Finance. Available at: https://unfccc.int/topics/climate-finance/the-big-picture/introduction-to-climate-finance/introduction-to-climate-finance