79% of Plants Remaining on Earth Must Be Saved to Meet UN Climate Goals, Study Says
Humanity’s efforts to conserve biodiversity are falling short and will continue to do so without focusing on retaining 79% of the remaining vegetation on the planet, according to a new study. Meeting this goal is important to achieving climate and conservation goals set by the United Nations.
The study, published in Conservation Biology, notes that while restoration is important for meeting global climate and biodiversity goals, maintaining existing plants is crucial for these targets.
The targets have been outlined by the United Nations in the Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
The research team outlined the major goals set in current international resolutions, then used data and modeling on soil erosion rates, biodiversity areas and carbon storage to find the amount of land surface needed to meet the goals. The study focused on natural and semi-natural terrestrial vegetation in areas such as forests, grasslands, woodlands, savannahs and shrublands, but did not include marine areas.
According to the study, humanity needs to conserve at least 67 million square kilometers (nearly 26 million square miles), or about 79% of remaining terrestrial vegetation, to meet goals for climate, water, soil and biodiversity set in these four resolutions.
These findings show that the 30 by 30 initiatives to conserve 30% of terrestrial and marine areas fall short of what the planet really needs. According to The Nature Conservancy, which was not involved in the study, about 17% of terrestrial and 8% of marine areas are currently protected.
“We cannot set our ceiling at looking after only 30 per cent of the planet — instead, we need to maintain natural ecosystems over much larger areas. This ‘30×30’ narrative — 30 percent of the protection of nature by 2030 — simply won’t be enough to ensure our survival,” April Reside, co-author of the study and lecturer at the University of Queensland, said in a statement. “We need to think more broadly, to halt and, where possible, reverse the depletion of natural ecosystems.”
Martine Maron, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Queensland, noted several tactics that could help meet the 79% target identified in the study, including creating and enforcing stronger deforestation policies and encouraging more sustainable land uses. The study also highlighted that the stewardship of nature by Indigenous peoples and local communities is important when considering conservation initiatives.
But as Mongabay reported, much of humanity is already missing climate and biodiversity goals. It will take rapid actions to conserve nature to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and loss of biodiversity.
“Everyone needs to understand that we cannot afford to lose much more of what we have left,” Maron said in a statement. “Governments, conservation NGOs, business, and the public all need to get on board, and collectively we can rally to save what’s left while there’s still time.”