The following statement is by Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, speaking at the One Planet Summit, January 11, 2021

"Humans have been living on this planet for more than 200,000 years, and we share our home with another ten million species. The development of agriculture, the industrial revolution and new technologies have allowed us to multiply and today almost 8 billion people are alive. No other species has had a larger impact on the planet and our human footprint has grown exponentially over the past century, to the point that only 23% of the terrestrial surface of the planet remains wild today, and we have impacted every corner of the ocean.

"These rapid changes threaten the diversity of life on Earth, and also our own survival as a species. The 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) confirmed that more than a million species are threatened with extinction. The main direct causes are the transformation of habitats, over-exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive species, all resulting from human activities.

"One of the most important and proven solutions to this global crisis are protected areas. This is a practice that has been used by Indigenous Peoples and local communities for centuries, setting aside areas that have important natural, cultural, and spiritual values. In recent decades governments have created more and larger protected areas on land and sea, and there is strong evidence that effectively designed and managed protected areas are key to the conservation of biodiversity, climate mitigation and sustaining local livelihoods. A good example are marine protected areas, which have higher biodiversity and biomass, some of which spill over to adjacent areas, with measurable improvements in both fisheries and local livelihoods.

"The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Aichi Targets in 2010. Target 11 focuses on protected areas, and one of the key goals was to increase protected and other conserved areas to cover 17% of land and 10% of the ocean. The latest update of the World Database on Protected Areas lists more than 258,000 protected areas worldwide, covering 15% of the land and freshwater. According to the most recent Global Biodiversity Outlook, the largest increase has taken place in marine protected areas, which have increased ten-fold since 2000 to cover 7.5% of the ocean today, including 17% of areas within national jurisdiction, but only 1.2% of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction. The efforts currently underway to create more protected areas in the high seas could multiply this area and create the largest protected area on the planet, with significant biodiversity outcomes.

"The good news is that we have made major progress declaring protected and other conserved areas, and we have more than doubled them in the past decade. However, most of the protected areas are not well managed; they do not represent the diversity of ecosystems; and many of them are too small to be viable in the long term, especially in view of climate change. We know that protected areas can have a major positive impact, and we have the scientific knowledge and experience to know how to make them more effective. What we need is higher ambition, political commitment and financial resources to implement actions in three crucial fronts over the next decade:

First, the science tells us that we must expand protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures to cover at least 30% of land and sea by 2030. We must identify and protect the ecosystems with the highest integrity, especially intact forests and coral reefs that are home to the largest number of species.  We need to make sure we do not lose the remaining 23% of wilderness, and take steps to protect, restore and rewild key biodiversity areas and ecosystems with high intactness. I am encouraged by the progress made by many countries in recent years, and the commitment made by large number of countries that are part of the high-ambition coalition toward this goal as part of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

"Second, we must make sure the protected and other conserved areas represent the diversity of ecosystems and species and are effective for conservation in the long-term. In a few words, they must be located in the right places and be large enough to be functional and sustain viable populations of key species. Science shows us that only 42% of the ecoregions of the planet are well represented in protected areas, and 78% of all threatened species don’t have adequate protection at this time. The largest improvements have taken place in coral reefs and coastal ecosystems, which have gone from less than 10% representation of endangered species a decade ago to almost 50% today. It is clear we need to expand the number of protected and conserved areas; but we also need to make them larger and improve the connectivity between and within them. This is especially critical given the impacts that climate change is having on the distribution and migration of many species. We need to have more regional planning and collaboration, like the coalition to protect the five great Mesoamerican forests and the Mediterranean plan for action.

"Third, we must make sure that these areas are managed effectively. Too many protected areas don’t have the people or resources needed to ensure their protection over the long-term. A recent review of more than 45,000 protected areas showed that 55% of them had suffered from harmful human impacts over the past two decades. We need to ensure adequate financing, strengthen the capacity for management, increase and train more staff, and work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. We also need to develop and deploy new technologies to improve monitoring and law enforcement, and we need to promote sustainable finance mechanisms like the payment for ecosystem services like carbon and water. I am encouraged by new efforts like the Blue Action Fund and the Legacy Landscapes program, designed to support the effective management of protected areas in the long-term through partnerships, and the Wildlife Conservation Society is pleased to be one of those partners.

"The world is facing three major crises today: the loss of biodiversity, climate change and the pandemic. They are all inter-related, with many of the same causes and solutions, and we need to recognize these synergies and find win-win solutions. We know that pandemics of zoonotic origin such as COVID-19 are directly tied to wildlife trade and the increase in the human-wildlife interface caused by deforestation and forest degradation. We also know that deforestation is one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions, and that more than a third of the solution to climate mitigation can come from nature-based solutions. Protected and conserved areas are at the heart of the solution: they can help protect biodiversity, reduce climate change and help prevent future pandemics of zoonotic origin. They also support the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people, and are critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Goals. These are Nature’s Strongholds, and they are key to our future and the survival of life on Earth.

"Some of you watched the powerful statement by Sir David Attenborough in his most recent film, “A life on this Planet,” in which he shows the changes that have taken place in his lifetime. His voice and message have inspired millions of people, including many of us gathered here today. In the film he states: “we must work with nature, rather than against it….

we need to move from being apart from nature to being a part of nature…

and if we take care of nature, nature will take care of us.”

"We have a shared vision and need to adopt a global goal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, and protected and conserved areas must be at the heart of it. We at the Wildlife Conservation Society stand ready to work with governments, multilateral agencies, the private sector and civil society to build a sustainable future that is nature positive and carbon neutral, for the benefit of people and planet."

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