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5 Countries Control 70% of the World’s Remaining Wilderness

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Brazil, home to the Amazon, is one of five countries that control 70 percent of the world's remaining wilderness. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

This week began with the disturbing news that human activity has caused a 60 percent decline in wildlife since 1970.

Now, a group of researchers from the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have released a stunning map showing that just five countries are home to more than 70 percent of the world's last, undisturbed wilderness areas.


Those five countries? The U.S., Brazil, Canada, Russia and Australia.

The five countries that control most remaining wilderness area are Brazil, the U.S., Canada, Russia and Australia. Nature

In a series of studies over two years, the researchers found that more than 77 percent of land, excluding Antarctica, and 87 percent of oceans, has been modified by human activity in some way.

"In this new analysis we've created a global map and intersected it with national borders to ask: who is responsible?" lead author and University of Queensland conservation scientist James Watson told The Guardian.

The answer is that just 20 countries control 94 percent of the remaining wilderness, excluding Antarctica and the open ocean.

The list of countries controlling most of the world's wilderness.Nature

The researchers published their map in a "Comment" published in Nature Wednesday, in which they urge the international community to protect these remaining wilderness areas when it comes together for the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cairo this month.

"We urge participants at the meeting to include a mandated target for wilderness conservation. In our view, a bold yet achievable target is to define and conserve 100% of all remaining intact ecosystems," the authors wrote.

However, their call comes at a perilous political moment in many of the countries responsible for these last wildernesses.

Brazil's Amazon, for example, is newly under threat by the election of far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to collapse the country's environment and agriculture ministry and open more of the rainforest to farming and mining.

Most of the wild land in the U.S. is in the Arctic tundra of Alaska, and the Trump administration has just approved a controversial oil drilling island and underwater pipeline that could put Arctic ecosystems and communities at risk.

But the researchers are adamant about the importance of protecting these ecosystems. They are essential refuges for biodiversity and for indigenous communities, in addition to being important for storing carbon and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

"Already we have lost so much. We must grasp these opportunities to secure the wilderness before it disappears forever," WCS executive vice president for global conservation John Robinson told The Guardian.

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