Nat Geo: Half of all land must be kept in a natural state to protect Earth

New science says land conservation must double by 2030 to prevent dangerous warming and unravelling of ecosystems.


WORLD LEADERS MUST increase their commitments to conserving land and water, and quickly, if a stable climate and high quality of life are to be preserved in the near future, a new scientific study argues.

Countries should double their protected zones to 30 percent of the Earth’s land area, and add 20 percent more as climate stabilization areas, for a total of 50 percent of all land kept in a natural state, scientists conclude. All of this needs to be done by 2030 to have a real hope of keeping climate change under the “danger zone” target of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) and to prevent the world’s ecosystems from unravelling—according to an ambitious plan called the Global Deal for Nature.

“The benefits of protecting 50 percent of nature by 2030 are tremendous,” says Eric Dinerstein, director of biodiversity and wildlife solutions at RESOLVE, a non-profit group, and lead author of a new paper published Friday in Science Advances titled “A Global Deal For Nature: Guiding principles, milestones, and targets.”

This is the first science-based plan with clear milestones on why it’s vital to achieve these goals and how it could be done, says Dinerstein. It’s not widely understood that large areas of forests, grasslands, and other natural areas are needed to soak up carbon emissions, he adds. Intact forests, and especially tropical forests, sequester twice as much carbon as planted monocultures, for example.

Only when 50 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial areas are protected, along with substantial cuts in fossil-fuel use and major increases in renewable energy, will we have a good chance of meeting the Paris climate target of less than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) of warming, the scientists argue. And if warming goes beyond 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), we lose some of those natural systems and the services they provide humanity, including their ability to absorb carbon, Dinerstein says.

“We can’t have a safer climate without protecting 50 percent of the Earth and vice versa.”

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