Five countries hold 70% of world's last wildernesses, map reveals

James Marshall
November 2, 2018

The authors argue that these nations have an enormous role to play to secure the last of the wild.

James Allan, a postdoctoral research fellow at Queensland University, said the world's remaining wilderness could only be protected if its importance was recognised in worldwide policy.

Building on a 2016 project that charted existing terrestrial wilderness land, the study, published in the journal Nature, plotted ocean ecosystems, as well as the rest of the Earth. Currently, human activity affects 77 percent of the land area, including Antarctica, and 87 percent of the World's oceans.

"Many wilderness areas are critical sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide", adds the study. Regardless of where they are - from the lowland rainforests of Papua New Guinea, to the high taiga forests of Russia's Arctic, to the vast deserts of inland Australia, to the great mixing zones of the Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans - these areas are the last strongholds for endangered species, and perform vital functions such as storing carbon, and buffering us against the effects of climate change.

"In the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are nearly completely confined to the polar regions", he adds. The results reveal that 70% of such untouched wilderness is located in just five countries around the world - Russia, Canada, Brazil, United States, and Australia.

He said the five countries responsible for most of the world's remaining wilderness had to provide leadership and could act to protect these areas through legislation or by offering incentives to businesses that do not erode nature.

Jay Ritchlin, the David Suzuki Foundation's director for Western Canada, said the mapping of remaining wilderness areas is a clear signal for governments to create policies that support people and the environment.

The authors describe wilderness areas as those places that do not have industrial level activity within them according to the marine and terrestrial human footprint.

Our maps show how little wilderness is left, and how much has been lost in the past few decades.

"We need the immediate establishment of bold wilderness targets, specifically those aimed at conserving biodiversity, avoiding risky climate change and achieving sustainable development".

These disturbing findings are particularly troubling as numerous recent studies reveal that Earth's remaining wilderness areas are increasingly important buffers against the effects of climate change and other human impacts.

Most scientists and conservationists agree that no place on earth is completely untouched by humanity, either due to past occupation or through global processes like climate change, but in a wilderness area, human impact is still minimal. Particularly, worldwide accountability is necessary, he argues.

He said the 14th gathering of a biodiversity convention, hosted by Egypt and involving 190 nations later this month, should include a mandated global target beyond 2020 to save all remaining intact ecosystems.

"One take on the list is that alarm bells go off", said Watson.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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