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Scientists & conservationists plan to turn 50% of earth into a nature reserve, but is it too ambitious?

Although the idea was initially considered aspirational, it has gained support over time as a means to protect biodiversity and mitigate the continued climate warming.

Scientists & conservationists plan to turn 50% of earth into a nature reserve, but is it too ambitious?
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

As we humans expand our domination of this planet on what seems to be a day to day basis, it's way past time that we put in motion some serious plans to save the earth before its too late. This is why a growing number of influential scientists and conservationists believe that preserving half of the planet in some form is going to be key in our fight to keep earth habitable. According to BBC, this slightly radical sounding idea first caught public attention in 2016 when the legendary conservation biologist, E.O. Wilson, proposed the concept in his book Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life.


"We now have enough measurements of extinction rates and the likely rate in the future to know that it is approaching a thousand times the baseline of what existed before humanity came along," Wilson explained to The New York Times in a 2016 interview. Although the idea was initially considered too aspirational, it has amassed support over time as not only a means to protect biodiversity but also to lull the continued climate warming. A 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) makes the strongest case for the adoption of these extreme preservation goals with its revelation that over one million species are currently at risk of extinction.


The study, conducted by hundreds of researchers around the world, is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis of the state of the world's biodiversity ever. The report also found that the myriad of life-support functions that these near-extinction species and ecosystems provide are also at risk, putting everything from clean water and air to flood control and climate regulation, food, and a host of other services at jeopardy. Furthermore, some scientists worry that the face of the globe has been so altered that the global ecosystem could be reaching a tipping point that would cause widespread environmental instability.


The ambitious proposal of protecting and restoring natural systems on a large scale has been backed to various degrees by a number of groups and people. While the Wyss Campaign for Nature has joined forces with the National Geographic Society to support the so-called "30x30" movement — an initiative to protect 30 percent of the planet, on land and at sea, by the year 2030 — the organization Nature Needs Half has drawn in scientists and groups pushing for the protection of 50 percent of the planet by 2030. Meanwhile, the European Parliament has pledged to restore degraded ecosystems, add biodiversity objectives into all EU policies, protect 30 percent of European Union territory, and earmark 10 percent of the budget for the improvement of biodiversity.


This focus is now on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) — a multilateral treaty created by the United Nations to write a 10-year biodiversity plan — which, in 2010, called for 17 percent of the terrestrial planet to be protected in some form and 10 percent of the oceans by 2020. However, only about 16 percent of the terrestrial planet and less than 8% of marine ecosystems has been protected as of this year. So, in order to reach the 2030 goals, we would need to almost double the land protection and quadruple ocean preservation in the next decade.


Fortunately, the likes of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg have brought an urgency and renewed attention to the cause. "Younger people, in general, are focusing on environmental issues," said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature. "And we are seeing much less of a siloed approach, where those who work on climate and those who work on conservation are working together more." On the other hand, "the way our world agricultural system works," stands as one of the biggest barriers to setting aside 30 percent or 50 percent of the planet for nature, said Brian O'Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature.



"It encourages lots of encroaching on more and more land for cattle and farming. That’s a key one," he said. "We're studying the cost of protection and also looking at what would be the cost if you didn't protect this amount of land, in terms of lost ecosystem services, clean waters, and fisheries. There's a cost of conserving land, and a cost if we don't." 

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