Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Science | By

World's remaining wilderness rapidly vanishing

World's remaining wilderness rapidly vanishing

"A few countries own a lot of this untouched land and they have a massive responsibility to keep the last of the wild". Calling for a mandated target for wilderness conservation that will preserve the planet's vulnerable ecosystems, the researchers said that the planet's remaining wilderness can be protected "only if it is recognised within global policy frameworks".

To reach their conclusion, the researchers constructed a comprehensive global map of Earth's remaining terrestrial and ocean wilderness areas. Today, only 23% of land - excluding Antarctica - and 13% of the ocean remains free from the harmful impacts of human activities. "In the ocean, areas that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are nearly completely confined to the polar regions". The results reveal that 70% of such untouched wilderness is located in just five countries around the world - Russia, Canada, Brazil, United States, and Australia.

Dr Allen said: "Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected".

Jay Ritchlin, the David Suzuki Foundation's director for Western Canada, said the mapping of remaining wilderness areas is a clear signal for governments to create policies that support people and the environment. This means there is nothing to hold nations, industry, society and community to account for wilderness conservation.

Astonishingly, 94 percent of that space is confined to 20 countries, while the top five (Russia, Canada, Australia, the U.S., and Brazil - in that order) possess 70 percent of the world's remaining wilderness. "We must grasp these opportunities to secure the wilderness before it disappears forever". They also provide increasingly important refuges for species declining in human-dominated landscapes.

Parties to the Antarctic Treaty must act on their commitments to help reduce human impacts, and we need to urgently curb global carbon emissions before it is too late to save Antarctica.

"We can not afford to lose more", he said.

The scientists are calling for the establishment of global targets aimed at conserving biodiversity and avoiding unsafe climate change.

A global target of retaining 100% of all remaining wilderness is achievable, although it would require stopping industrial activities like mining, logging, and fishing from expanding to new places. For example the boreal forest, which is the most intact ecosystem on the planet, stores one-third of the world's carbon dioxide.

In addition, wilderness areas are also places where enormous amounts of carbon is stored and sequestered with intact ecosystems being at least twice important than similar degraded habitats when it comes carbon mitigation.

It's crucial that these five nations take an active leadership role in protecting what's left of the wild areas, and all other countries step in as well, researchers add. Key to this will be lenders' investment and performance standards, particularly for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the regional development banks.

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