Targeting ‘cost-effective zones’ to protect global biodiversity could help balance conservation goals and political priorities

Scientists have identified regions of land around the world with both high conservation value and low levels of human impact. These cost-effective zones (CEZs) – only 24% of which are currently covered by protected areas – could be incorporated into a post-2020 international biodiversity framework that balances conservation imperatives with political priorities. The findings identify CEZs that could be designated as protected areas under conservative, moderate, or ambitious goals (protecting 19%, 26%, or 43% of all land on the planet, respectively) set by the upcoming meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While a network of protected areas now encompasses 15.2% of land on Earth (as compared with 12.7% in 2010), these measures have not managed to mitigate the disastrous decline of global biodiversity. Previous studies have pointed to regions where human activities are prevalent, such as lands that include cities and farmland, as priorities for conservation measures. However, it is unlikely that conservation goals centered around these regions would align with political objectives. To bridge this gap between conservation science and policy considerations, Rui Yang and colleagues first conducted a meta-analysis of seven global biodiversity prioritization templates, identifying regions where biodiversity is at greatest risk due to habitat conversion, at-risk areas with high concentrations of endemic plants or animals, and other regions important to biodiversity. The researchers then overlaid the templates and categorized conservation priority zones into three levels, depending on the number of templates that overlapped in a given area. Using this framework, Yang et al. identified seven countries most in need of expanding their protected areas: Australia, China, Brazil, the U.S., Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.S. was singled out as a country that is critically important to conservation even though it has not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, with unprotected CEZs covering 18.9% of its land area and hosting a total of 4.6% of the world’s unprotected CEZs. The findings indicate that there is still much potential for the U.S. and other countries to expand protected areas while balancing economic priorities.


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