A “Global Safety Net” to reverse biodiversity loss and stabilize Earth’s climate, Dinerstein et al. 2020

Compendium Volume 4 Number 2 January 2021

Currently, 15.1% of land on Earth is conservation protected. This article maps out an additional 35.3% of land needing near-term protection, along with ecological corridor routes connecting these areas. Half of the planet’s land is needed to serve as a Global Safety Net to biodiversity loss and stabilize the global climate.

While the parallel crises of biodiversity loss and climate change have generally been approached separately, a key solution for two of the most pressing challenges of our time is the same: conserve enough nature and in the right places [Dinerstein 2020: 1].

The “right places” were identified by mapping areas with rare or endangered species, biodiversity hotspots[3], and places with distinct species assemblages. Onto this, the authors mapped areas where wild large mammals are still able to range widely and freely, a phenomenon that has become rare globally given the extent of anthropogenic land conversion, and areas of remaining intact wilderness.

The study also maps out a system of wildlife corridors to connect conservation areas. Only half of currently protected areas are connected. “Connecting all current terrestrial protected areas via potential wildlife and climate corridors (using 2.5 km as an average corridor width) adds 5,705,206 km2 or 4.3% of the terrestrial realm” [Dinerstein 2020: 4]. Assuming the additional lands identified in this study for conservation are formally protected, the amount of land needed for connectivity would be significantly reduced.

While large conservation protections require national leadership to achieve, the need to establish connectivity presents a role for local and regional actors to restore degraded lands in their midst.

The connectivity analysis offers a template to build from and engage local and regional entities in designing programs centered on restoring connectivity. This effort could merge with global habitat restoration and native tree-planting initiatives now under way [Dinerstein 2020: 7].

Focusing restoration efforts on degraded lands that can serve as wildlife corridors could help achieve other objectives, such as the Bonn Challenge. Similarly, massive tree-planting programs, if designed using native species and planted to restore corridors, riparian and coastal vegetation, and upper watersheds, could contribute to stabilizing climate and restoring connectivity [Dinerstein 2020: 7].

At the national level, countries could use the Global Safety Net framework to map out their own corresponding national safety nets. The 20 countries with the greatest role to play in establishing the Global Safety Net include: Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, the United States, Costa Rica, Peru, and Namibia.

Investments needed for the establishment and management of additional protected areas and restoration of degraded lands, while substantial, are small compared with enormous fossil fuel subsidies. The estimated $4.7 trillion per year in fossil fuel subsidies are expected to decline as the Paris Climate Agreement is implemented, making government resources available for restoring, rather than destroying, our global climate system [Dinerstein 2020: 7].

The authors emphasize that the conservation goals of the Global Safety Net are achievable, especially if indigenous people’s land rights are honored. One third of land identified for a Global Safety Net is managed by indigenous communities in a way that preserves biodiversity and regulates Earth’s atmosphere.

Dinerstein, E., et al., 2020, A “Global Safety Net” to reverse biodiversity loss and stabilize Earth’s climate, Science Advances 6, https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/36/eabb2824.

[3] A biodiversity hotspot is a place that is rich in biodiversity, yet threatened. To qualify, a region must be home to at least 1,500 plant species found nowhere else in the world and have lost at least 70% of its original extent of habitat cover. Currently, there are 36 global biodiversity hotspots, according to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (https://www.cepf.net/our-work/biodiversity-hotspots/hotspots-defined).

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 4 Number 2 January 2021