Protecting Half of the Planet Could Affect a Billion People

A new paper1 published this week in Nature Sustainability suggests that turning 50% of Earth into protected areas to promote biodiversity conservation would likely affect at least a billion people. Nature Needs Half is a popular movement in conservation that pushes for laws and policies that would set aside half of the world’s landscapes for nature conservation by 2050 – and 30% by 2020 (i.e., Global Deal for Nature2). This is seen by many scientists and wildlife professionals as a key requirement to avoid critical biodiversity loss and species extinctions predicted under the current climate change, habitat loss and overharvesting scenarios. In a comparison, current conservation goals (i.e., Convention on Biological Diversity) aim at extending legal protection to 17% and 10% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas respectively, by 2020.

In their paper, Judith Schleicher (University of Cambridge) and coauthors say: “We found that over one billion people currently live in areas that would be protected under the Half Earth proposal, if it were applied to all ecoregions. This is four times the number of people estimated, by our approach, to be living in protected areas today (247million), and includes 760million people living in additional areas that would need to become protected to meet the 50% target.”

Roughly, the number of people to be affected would be equivalent to the combined populations of the UK, Thailand and Morocco. To be mostly concerned would be people in middle-income countries, but also people in highly developed areas, such as London.

 “We recognize the importance of conserved areas for the future of life on Earth, and the fundamental need for radical action in the face of unfolding environmental crises. However, our findings highlight the crucial importance of taking into account the human impacts of Half Earth, Global Deal for Nature or other ambitious (area-based) conservation targets”.

The authors conclude their paper stressing the need to consider issues of social and environmental justice when planning for biodiversity conservation in the foreseeable future.

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  1. Schleicher, J., Zaehringer, J.G., Fastré, C., Vira, B., Visconti, P. and Sandbrook, C., 2019. Protecting half of the planet could directly affect over one billion people. Nature Sustainability, pp.1-3.

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