Fate of wild places in five coun­tries’ hands

Mail & Guardian - - News -

More than 70% of Earth’s last un­touched wilder­ness lies in the ter­ri­to­ries of just five coun­tries, most of which have alarmed en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists with their luke­warm re­sponse to cli­mate change.

This is ac­cord­ing to new re­search pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture, which found that nearly three-quar­ters of the wilder­ness that’s left is in Aus­tralia, Brazil, Canada, Rus­sia and the United States.

True wild spa­ces — land and sea ar­eas mostly un­af­fected by hu­man­ity’s ex­plo­sive ex­pan­sion and ap­petite for food and nat­u­ral re­sources — now cover just a quar­ter of the planet. These places are refuges for thou­sands of en­dan­gered species, and pro­vide some de­fences against the dev­as­tat­ing weather events brought about by cli­mate change.

“A few coun­tries own a lot of this un­touched land and they have a mas­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep the last of the wild,” said James Watson, pro­fes­sor of con­ser­va­tion sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Queens­land and the lead au­thor.

Rus­sia is vague about its con­ser­va­tion com­mit­ments and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin sug­gested last year that cli­mate change was not caused by hu­mans. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said the US is leav­ing the Paris deal on cli­mate change, and Brazil last week elected a right-winger who has pledged to re­scind le­gal pro­tec­tions for the Ama­zon rain for­est.

Just 23% of land is un­touched by agri­cul­ture and in­dus­try. A cen­tury ago that fig­ure stood at 85%.

The con­ser­va­tion group WWF warned this week that hu­man con­sump­tion had dec­i­mated global wildlife and trig­gered a mass-ex­tinc­tion event. In the past 40 years pop­u­la­tions of fish, birds, am­phib­ians, rep­tiles and mam­mals have plum­meted, on av­er­age, by 60%.

The sci­en­tists warned that Earth’s wild places were fac­ing “the same ex­tinc­tion cri­sis as species”.

As well as be­ing havens for bio­di­ver­sity, wilder­nesses such as the bo­real for­est in Canada — which acts as a car­bon sink — form the planet’s front­line pro­tec­tion against runaway cli­mate change.

But the sci­en­tists also noted that “there’s time [for politi­cians] to break the mould and show some lead­er­ship”.

They called for greater leg­is­la­tion and re­form at global fi­nance ini­tia­tives to pro­tect un­spoilt ar­eas. — AFP

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