NEW ARTICLE: A World at Risk: Aggregating Development Trends to Forecast Global Habitat Conversion

Author(s): James R. Oakleaf,Christina M. Kennedy,Sharon Baruch-Mordo, Paul C. West, James S. Ger­ber, Larissa Jarvis and Joseph Kiesecker

Title: A World at Risk: Aggre­gat­ing Devel­op­ment Trends to Fore­cast Global Habi­tat Conversion

Year: 2015

In: PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.013833. Pub­lished online: 7 Octo­ber 2015

Pages: 25 pages.

Pub­li­ca­tion type: open access jour­nal article

Lan­guage: English



A grow­ing and more afflu­ent human pop­u­la­tion is expected to increase the demand for resources and to accel­er­ate habi­tat mod­i­fi­ca­tion, but by how much and where remains unknown. Here we project and aggre­gate global spa­tial pat­terns of expected urban and agri­cul­tural expan­sion, con­ven­tional and uncon­ven­tional oil and gas, coal, solar, wind, bio­fu­els and min­ing devel­op­ment. Cumu­la­tively, these threats place at risk 20% of the remain­ing global nat­ural lands (19.68 mil­lion km2) and could result in half of the world’s bio­mes becom­ing >50% con­verted while dou­bling and tripling the extent of land con­verted in South Amer­ica and Africa, respec­tively. Region­ally, sub­stan­tial shifts in land con­ver­sion could occur in South­ern and West­ern South Amer­ica, Cen­tral and East­ern Africa, and the Cen­tral Rocky Moun­tains of North Amer­ica. With only 5% of the Earth’s at-risk nat­ural lands under strict legal pro­tec­tion, esti­mat­ing and proac­tively mit­i­gat­ing multi-sector devel­op­ment risk is crit­i­cal for cur­tail­ing the fur­ther sub­stan­tial loss of nature.

Extract: Plan­ning for the future: proac­tive mitigation

With devel­op­ment increas­ingly encroach­ing into more remote and pre­vi­ously undis­turbed areas, it is crit­i­cal that inter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions, gov­ern­ments and con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tions col­lab­o­rate to reduce and min­i­mize poten­tial future impacts on remain­ing habi­tats. We pro­pose that reg­u­la­tions for devel­op­ment sit­ing and impact mit­i­ga­tion, as well as the imple­men­ta­tion of land use plan­ning, should tar­get pri­or­ity regions where devel­op­ment could threaten sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tions of nat­ural areas, such as the 224 ecore­gions with the high­est poten­tial con­ver­sion of nat­ural habi­tat (Fig 4B). These ecore­gions could be fur­ther pri­or­i­tized based on high bio­di­ver­sity (e.g., refs [2325]) and/or ecosys­tem ser­vice val­ues (e.g., ref [26]). Once a pri­or­ity region is iden­ti­fied, we sug­gest fol­low­ing analy­ses sim­i­lar to ours that delin­eate nat­ural areas at great­est risk to cumu­la­tive devel­op­ment threats, but to per­form such analy­ses at finer (land­scape) scales using more refined bio­di­ver­sity data (e.g., as done in ref [27]). While our analy­sis pro­vides an impor­tant global per­spec­tive, data uncer­tain­ties limit its use for most con­ser­va­tion inter­ven­tions and mit­i­ga­tion plan­ning efforts.

Imple­men­ta­tion of mit­i­ga­tion require­ments should also be con­ducted at land­scape scales and include pro­ce­dures for proac­tively eval­u­at­ing the com­pat­i­bil­ity of pro­posed devel­op­ment with con­ser­va­tion goals to deter­mine when impacts should be avoided and when devel­op­ment can pro­ceed (e.g., as done in ref [21]). Given the expan­sive scale of expected impacts from a vari­ety of sec­tors, devel­op­ers will need to com­pen­sate for resid­ual impacts through the use of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. Also known as set-asides, com­pen­satory habi­tat, or mit­i­ga­tion banks, bio­di­ver­sity off­sets are a tool for main­tain­ing or enhanc­ing envi­ron­men­tal assets in sit­u­a­tions where devel­op­ment is sought despite neg­a­tive envi­ron­men­tal impacts. To meet the need for addi­tional invest­ment in bio­di­ver­sity off­sets sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment of reg­u­la­tory over­sight will be needed [28].

With­out strong over­sight and proac­tive plan­ning, coun­tries con­tain­ing high risk areas which also have weak gov­er­nance and low lev­els of envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion are likely to suf­fer severe envi­ron­men­tal dam­age [29]. In con­trast, where envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions are ade­quately enforced, impacts on bio­di­ver­sity can be avoided and prop­erly off­set [21,27]. Oppor­tu­ni­ties for improve­ment include expand­ing, strate­gi­cally locat­ing, and enforc­ing global net­works of pro­tected areas in high-risk areas [18,30]; extend­ing mit­i­ga­tion reg­u­la­tions to coun­tries that cur­rently lack them; and strength­en­ing com­pli­ance where imple­men­ta­tion of mit­i­ga­tion is weak [28]. In the interim, poorly per­form­ing national poli­cies can be sup­ple­mented by the rein­force­ment of the mit­i­ga­tion hier­ar­chy and adher­ing to plan­ning man­dates by mul­ti­lat­eral devel­op­ment banks. For exam­ple, more than 70 Equa­tor Prin­ci­ple finan­cial insti­tu­tions cur­rently base their require­ments on the Inter­na­tional Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Per­for­mance Stan­dards, which require that the projects they finance adhere to the mit­i­ga­tion hier­ar­chy with regard to bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vice impacts [31]. In Africa and South Amer­ica where devel­op­ment risk is high, the African and Inter-American Devel­op­ment Banks can pro­vide lever­age to ensure devel­op­ment projects avoid crit­i­cal habi­tats and min­i­mize and reduce impacts to less-critical areas and com­pen­sate where necessary.

While global agri­cul­ture, energy and min­eral devel­op­ment are inevitable in the com­ing decades, their neg­a­tive envi­ron­men­tal impacts can be bet­ter man­aged. We sug­gest that using tools that cumu­la­tively con­sider all cur­rent and future devel­op­ment threats, even when there are uncer­tain­ties and inac­cu­ra­cies, will facil­i­tate and advo­cate for more strate­gic and proac­tive devel­op­ment plan­ning. This will allow for the world to bet­ter ben­e­fit from eco­nomic growth while also main­tain­ing func­tion­ing ecosys­tems and crit­i­cal bio­di­ver­sity. It will how­ever be crit­i­cal to act proac­tively before devel­op­ment plans are cemented, and it becomes too late for these regions and bio­mes at great­est risk.

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