Conservation Imperatives: securing the last unprotected terrestrial sites harboring irreplaceable biodiversity

Ambitious biodiversity goals to protect 30% or more of the Earth’s surface by 2030 (30x30) require strategic near-term targets. To define areas that must be protected to prevent the most likely and imminent extinctions, we propose Conservation Imperatives—16,825 unprotected sites spanning ~164 Mha of the terrestrial realm that harbor rare and threatened species. We estimate that protecting the Conservation Imperatives would cost approximately US$169 billion (90% probability: US$146—US$228 billion). Globally, 38% of the 16,825 sites are either adjacent to or within 2.5 km of an existing protected area, potentially reducing land acquisition and management costs. These sites should be prioritized for conservation action over the next 5 years as part of a broader strategy to expand the global protected area network. The expansion of global protected areas between 2018 and 2023 incorporated only 7% of sites harboring range-limited and threatened species, highlighting a renewed urgency to conserve these habitats. Permanently protecting only 0.74% of land found in the tropics, where Conservation Imperatives are concentrated, could prevent the majority of predicted near-term extinctions once adequately resourced. We estimate this cost to be from US$29 billion to US$46 billion per year over the next 5 years. Multiple approaches will be required to meet long-term protection goals: providing rights and titles to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) conserving traditional lands, government designation of new protected areas on federal and state lands, and land purchase or long-term leasing of privately held lands.

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