A new study published this week in Nature Ecology and Evolution concludes each of the world’s countries have their own unique, urgent roles to play to halt any further depletion of natural ecosystems as there is only 50 percent of Earth’s nature remaining.

The study includes authors from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and University of Queensland. The full study can be found HERE.

The team of researchers, led by University of Queensland Professor Martine Maron, have examined how a global goal of ‘no net loss’ of natural ecosystems could work, where some nations seek net increases in over-depleted natural vegetation, recognizing that for others, limited further losses of ecosystems might be unavoidable. The researchers calculated how depleted natural ecosystems were in 170 countries and considered the socioeconomic factors at play in the societies across these nations.

Said Maron: “Across the globe, our natural habitats are suffering, with alarming impacts on biodiversity, the climate and other critical natural systems – impacts which affect people, too. To stop the loss, there have been calls for global policy-makers to set targets protecting remaining nature from industrial transformation. It’s a lofty goal, but for it to be achievable, it needs to be equitable.”

Said Todd Stevens of the WCS: “We cannot afford to lose any more of nature as we have already lost half of all natural ecosystems. Our paper concludes that every country is in a different circumstance so each needs to evaluate what their role must be. For example, France, Italy, and India have their unique role in this goal as they each have less than 5 percent of their natural ecosystems in reasonable condition. Countries like Suriname and Canada are at the other end of the spectrum with more than 75 percent of their natural ecosystems in reasonable condition.”

The paper calls for each country to take action based on their current state of natural ecosystems remaining and other factors. Said James Watson of WCS and the University of Queensland: “It is not one size fits all as the world’s countries work toward no net loss of nature. Some countries might commit to net gain, some to no net loss, and in some circumstances, controlled loss, or drawdown, of ecosystems.”

The paper notes that momentum is building for an ambitious new commitment to be signed at the conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2020 as a global framework for nature conservation. Notable are calls for retention of half the Earth’s natural ecosystems to be enshrined by 2030 as a target under the deal.

There is little ‘room to move’— as approximately half the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems have already been lost. Nevertheless, complete cessation of anthropogenic impacts on natural ecosystems is infeasible, given the imperative for socioeconomic development where current levels of human development are low.

Said Maron: “Loss without limit is the paradigm under which natural ecosystems are currently being destroyed – this needs to stop. Conservation that ignores such differences among nations is likely to be unjust. We need a strong, overarching goal to retain, restore and protect natural ecosystems, while dramatically increasing conservation ambitions globally. A global no net loss goal sets a limit to the loss we—and biodiversity—can tolerate, while allowing for human development where it is most urgently needed.”

The need to clarify the overarching goal of the CBD and sharpen our commitments to retain, restore, and protect natural ecosystems was underscored resoundingly by the release of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services global assessment. So, as the focus turns to setting post-2020 conservation targets under the CBD, calls to dramatically increase their ambition1 and to set explicit nature retention targets must be heeded—and a pathway to translate them to country-level contributions laid out.

The paper concluded: “A GNNL goal sets a limit to the loss we—and biodiversity—can tolerate, while allowing for human development where it is most urgently needed. Any basis for country-level commitments to a GNNL goal must reflect the substantial variation among countries in the level of depletion of their natural ecosystems—but also the degree to which capacity to conserve and the imperative for human development vary globally.”

Added Maron: “There are some countries with largely intact remaining ecosystems and urgent human development imperatives, which may, in some circumstances, need to accept further limited and controlled depletion. The latter are some of the world’s poorest countries, so finding a way for essential development to proceed without locking in the current ongoing declines of natural ecosystems is critical.  A global goal of no net loss could allow this kind of development in an equitable, limited and transparent way.”

This research was supported by SNAPP: Science for Nature and People Partnership.