“Global Safety Net” To Fight Pandemics and Climate Change

Science Advances has recently published an article outlining the importance of saving nature to combat climate change, contributing to the ever growing literature on the interconnectedness between biodiversity and climate change. In response to a global failure in achieving any of the Aichi Targets in their totality, a new UN draft plan, that is expected to be adopted by governments at the next COP on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), aims to protect 30% of lands and oceans by 2030. However, the authors of this report argue for a protection coverage of 50% of terrestrial areas. The research states there are gaps in the current network of protected areas. Addressing these gaps requires the setting of targets for elements of biodiversity that need additional attention.

Multi-Functional Plan

The ‘global safety net’ proposed has three main elements. It aims to enhance the effectiveness of carbon storage and sinks, preserve biodiversity, and improve connections between protected areas. The report identifies areas of important carbon stores. Affording these lands protection would improve ecosystem resilience and guarantee land-based carbon stocks, contributing to the achievement of the 1.5°C goal outlined in the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

In relation to biodiversity, the plan aims to conserve areas of species rarity, distinct species assemblages (beta/landscape diversity), rare phenomena (which include areas containing the last intact large mammal populations) and intactness. Protection of these areas would add an extra 30% of unprotected land to the current total. An advantage of protecting biodiverse areas is that most of these areas store the most carbon as well. This is especially true when looking at areas of rare phenomena and intactness. Here, protection of these areas would secure carbon equivalent to 35.7% of the total carbon present in natural habitats. In addition, wildlife and climate corridors are key in connecting protected areas and intact landscapes. This will allow for a sustainable global network of protected areas, capable of lasting.

Nature Protection Protects Us

The ‘safety net’ would not just deal with environmental concerns, but also help address public health issues too. Increasing the area of protected areas also leads to a reduction of contact zones between humans and wildlife. Authorities would manage and protect natural habitats to prevent their conversion, subsequently reducing human contact with pathogens and zoonotic diseases, that could spread as catastrophically as COVID-19 has.

However, these potential protected areas are mainly situated in Russia and Canada, and species-rich habitats in Brazil, the USA, Australia, and China. The potential for conserving carbon and protecting intactness is great in these locations. Together, they amount to 75% of the total area that could be added through targeting intactness. Despite the merits of this plan, standing in its way is the political dimension of conservation.

For an explainer on the political side of this plan please read Achieving a Global Deal for Nature?.

“[Earth’s sixth mass extinction event] is something that hasn’t happened yet – we are on the edge of it.”

Professor Stuart Pimm
Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology

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