Integrated conservation strategies could simultaneously meet biodiversity, climate, and water objectives

Managing a strategically chosen 30% of land for conservation could safeguard 70% of all terrestrial plant and vertebrate animal species, while simultaneously conserving around two-thirds of the world’s vulnerable carbon and clean water, according to a new study carried out by the Nature Map Consortium, involving the University of Cambridge.

To halt the decline of nature and meet Paris Agreement objectives, strategies must be designed and implemented to better manage land use for agriculture, infrastructure, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, water provision, and other needs.

A new paper by the Nature Map consortium, published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, presents an approach for spatial planning to support such integrated conservation strategies.

The study demonstrates that by jointly considering biodiversity, carbon, and water, synergies can be gained from conservation efforts compared to placing emphasis on any individual asset alone. Through strategic action in selected locations, significant benefits can be achieved across all three dimensions. However, conservation efforts need to be greatly scaled-up to meet global biodiversity and climate objectives.

The paper sets out to determine areas of global importance to manage for conservation that would simultaneously protect the greatest number of species from extinction, conserve vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks, and safeguard freshwater resources.

This work is the first of its kind to truly integrate biodiversity, carbon, and water conservation within a common approach and a single global priority map.

“To implement post-2020 biodiversity strategies such as the Global Biodiversity Framework, policymakers and governments need clarity on where resources and conservation management could bring the greatest potential benefits to biodiversity,” said lead author Martin Jung, a researcher in the IIASA Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group.

He added: “Biodiversity should not be looked at in isolation. Other aspects such as conserving carbon stocks within natural ecosystems should also be considered, so that synergies and trade-offs can be evaluated when pursuing multiple objectives.”

“This type of approach can support decision makers in prioritising locations for conservation efforts, and shows just how much both people and nature could gain,” said Lera Miles, Principal Technical Specialist – Planning for Places, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

She added “To be successful long-term, these areas must be managed effectively and equitably. That includes respecting the rights of, and empowering indigenous peoples and local communities.”

“Maps for integrated land use planning can accelerate progress towards climate and biodiversity objectives and have many important additional policy uses, including helping to generate finance for natural climate solutions, improving carbon markets, and greening supply chains,” said Guido Schmidt-Traub, an author of the paper who has also written a related commentary in the same issue of Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The global priority maps can be explored interactively on the UN Biodiversity lab to support decision makers and generate insight and impact for conservation and sustainable development.

Jung, M., et al.: Areas of global importance for conserving terrestrial biodiversity, carbon, and water. Nature Ecology and Evolution. August 2021. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01528-7

Adapted from a press release by The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).