Global strategies to halt the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change are often formulated separately, even though they are interdependent and risk failure if pursued in isolation. Dr. Anup Joshi, the Executive Director of the Carbon Institute, is a co-author on “A Global Safety Net,” a new paper published in Science Advances on September 4 describing the regions of lands critical to reversing biodiversity loss and stabilizing Earth’s climate. The Global Safety Net is the first comprehensive global-scale analysis of terrestrial areas essential for biodiversity and climate resilience, identifying 50% of the Earth’s land area that if conserved would reverse further biodiversity loss, prevent CO2 emissions from land conversion, and enhance natural carbon removal.
The paper highlights sites where additional conservation attention is needed to preserve and maintain biodiversity as well as intact lands of particular importance for carbon storage and other ecosystem services. It also depicts the coincidence and disparities between terrestrial biodiversity and carbon storage priorities. The framework of the Global Safety Net shows that, beyond the 15.1% of Earth’s land area currently protected, 35.3% of land area is needed to conserve additional sites of particular importance for biodiversity and stabilize the climate.
“Forest plays a major role in carbon sequestration, which is crucial for achieving the global warming targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Joshi. “The Global Safety Net finds that one quarter of Earth’s land area is forested (32.8 million km2), only 28% of which is protected. Protecting the remainder of these forests, which contain more than 1.3 trillion tonnes of carbon, are vital to maintaining the balance of our global climate system.”
The Global Safety Net underscores the need for swift and coordinated action on land management to address both biodiversity loss and climate change. “If we surpass 1.5°C in global average temperature rise, it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve the goals of the UN Convention on Biodiversity. And if we fail to protect lands for ecosystem services and carbon sequestration, we will not be able to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement. The two conventions are intertwined,” said co-author Karl Burkart of One Earth. “There is a very finite amount of natural land that could be converted to human uses before we lose the 1.5°C window. Therefore, we need to protect all remaining natural lands by 2030 – approximately 50% of the Earth – in order to save biodiversity and stabilize our global climate system.”
In addition to the paper in Science Advances, the Global Safety Net authors and collaborators have developed a dynamic, spatially explicit mapping tool to support multilateral, national, and subnational land use planning efforts. Fifty ecoregions and 20 countries contribute disproportionately to proposed targets, and indigenous lands overlap extensively with the Global Safety Net. Conserving the Global Safety Net could support public health by reducing the potential for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 from emerging in the future.