Despite their importance, wilderness areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate and need urgent protection.
Almost anywhere you look around the planet, wildernesses are shrinking. Not to the same extent, to be sure, yet even in places like Canada that are commonly associated with unspoiled wilderness, there is less and less of it available.
Needless to say, that’s a problem not only for specific countries but for the entire planet. Ultimately, all major loss of wilderness anywhere is a loss to the entire planet as wildernesses play key roles in regulating climates and ensuring the health of natural environments
“These ecosystems play a key role in regulating local climates, sequestering and storing large amounts of carbon and supporting many of the world’s most culturally diverse – but politically and economically marginalized communities,” explains James Allan, an environmental scientist at the University of Queensland in Australia, which recently published a global map of wildernesses, together with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“Despite their importance,” he adds, “wilderness areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate and need urgent protection with almost 10 per cent being lost since the early 1990s. Their conservation is a global priority.”
And yet despite their importance, wildernesses have largely been ignored by policymakers. “Environmental policy almost completely ignored wilderness conservation but this has to change,” stresses James Watson, an environmental scientist who worked on the maps.
“National governments and multilateral environmental agreements such as the World Heritage convention need to step up and protect wilderness before it is too late,” he adds.
According to the maps, most of the planet’s remaining wildernesses are located in remote areas that have been largely left underdeveloped owing to their relative inaccessibility. They include deserts of central Australia, the Amazon rainforest in South America, the Tibetan plateau in central Asia, and the boreal forests of Canada and Siberia in Russia.
“Environmental policy [has] almost completely ignored wilderness conservation but this has to change,” Watson says. “National governments and multilateral environmental agreements such as the World Heritage convention need to step up and protect wilderness before it is too late.”