Chad Jennings

Carly Vynne presents a Global Deal For Nature

Good morning. I think I’ve caught what I’m going to call the Google buzz - this buzz is a part of feeling that I, too, like the Googlers, can help shape future in an important way that seemed never imaginable a few years ago.

Too often we as conservationists are constrained by thinking about what’s possible today. 

What if we instead imagine and shape the world we want to live in? 

What does that world look like? Global surveys of people from all corners of the world show that no matter who you are and where you live it is likely not a world without wild places. 

The world most of us envision will take much more ambitious targets and more, effective and immediate conservation action than what we have today.

Rebecca earlier highlighted the power of GEE to help monitor ambitious goals. Previously we had relied on an entirely piecemeal approach to assembling habitat data that took years each time wanted to analyze. Data that used to take years to compile could now be compiled across the range states in a matter of days. This work provided an opportunity to consider moving from a species to support even more ambitious, global efforts. 

It turns out that if your goal is to save not only tigers but most of life on Earth, the amount of natural areas on Earth under some sort of conservation management will need to globally be much closer to half of earth than the 15% we have today. You may be from an indigenous community for which this has been a central tenet of management for generations, or this may seem like a big, bold, audacious, even impossible, idea. 

Such a big idea needs exploring. Is it even possible to protect half in the terrestrial realm, and if so, which half should be protected, and how much of it is already protected?

Using this map of the world as nature might draw it, or the global ecoregions, we conducted a review of hundreds of conservation plans from around the world - which showed that between 25 and 75% - on average 50% - of each region needs to be under some form of conservation management to meet objectives. This is likely an underestimate as most of these plans didn’t include climate objectives. 

If half may be needed - the next question is do we have the habitat available today to protect half of nature in the terrestrial realm? Harnessing the computing power and freely available imagery in EE we were able to assess amount protected and amount remaining habitat for each ecoregion

The answer is quite a mixed story: a quarter of the world has only 4% remaining - where protecting half not realistic anytime soon. But for over 500 of the regions - areas in green - they’re either already protected or have enough remaining habitat to do so… The areas in orange would need significant restoration to get there. 

Following on the heels of our assessment of what’s necessary and possible for biodiversity, last fall we got some alarming but clear information from the IPCC’s special report on the state of our climate. 

The report used plain language to describe a 2-degree C world seeing:  

  • Collapse of all the world’s coral reefs - the nurseries of our seas
  • 3’-10’ feet of sea-level rise 
  • Permanent drought covering one-quarter of the Earth
  • More than 100M refugees fleeing from climate impacts by 2050

The message was that for the future most of us envisioned, we need to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

And new climate models were showing us that to do so, we need 50% of nature intact.

And so we argued that for the Paris deal to be successful, we need a deal for nature. The two global agreements are interdependent. 

Last spring we published in Science Advances - analyses entirely powered by Google Earth Engine, we assess habitat remaining outside of protected areas all over the globe and looked at how we could add to the system using a variety of biodiversity schemes from key biodiversity areas, threatened species maps, hotspots, and many others.

The paper was accompanied by a petition asking governments to commit to these targets - it has gathered 2.9M signatures from 92 countries; we hope to have 20 million signatures by the time leaders gather next October to set protected area targets.

But we also realize we need new and creative solutions to saving nature that are outside a traditional protected area system. Even an ambitious target of doubling the protected area system to 30% by 2030 will not be enough to stabilize climate, and so we have proposed a system of Climate Stabilization Areas - largely intact lands but exist outside the protected area system.

Just yesterday we finished analysis of a new map of carbon biomass that helped us identify and rank potential CSAs - which in turn need the management and funding capacity to keep the world below 1.5 degrees.

Here’s purely a visualization - for the terrestrial realm only - at this envisioning what the possible - a Global Safety Net - could look like if implemented…

Imagine this as a dynamic, GEE-based tool that could monitor our progress towards protecting half.

While global visions are important, the reality is that achieving them will entirely depend on the hearts and minds of people living in every corner of the world. 

Achieving 30, 40, or 50% protected will require tens if not hundreds of thousands of people everywhere doing the work of sitting down, looking at maps, and deciding if and how to conserve their landscapes. 

The pace of change in our world, however, is simply too great to keep us using traditional methods. And so, back home where I live, in what we call Cascadia of the US State of Washington and British Columbia of Canada, and where the pace of change from human population growth and climate-related impacts is staggering, we’re developing a conservation planning toolkit

The tool harnesses the power of GEE to deliver the scalable, dynamic, automated, freely available, climate-smart conservation plans we need to design the world imagined by communities around the world.  This tool will be presented in the landscape change session tomorrow, but here’s a brief preview. 

This is very much a prototype that hasn’t even been shown to our user audience, but just to show you some of the features…

  • we were able to provide for the first time a seamless land cover map across the border
  • create a human footprint map that will be dynamically updated as changes occur on the landscape
  • integrate relevant threats such as fire that affect our priority species and systems 
  • and finally, we could map how our biomes may shift in the future so we can plan for this changing world - and also see how the ability for systems and species to persist may be limited by realities on the landscape.

So global visions may be necessary to push the envelope, but it is at local and regional levels where most decisions and outcomes will be made. The work in Cascadia, like that showcased by so many of you this week, is what will propel the implementation of a global deal for nature and give us a shot at achieving that world we all envision. Thank you.