Most scientists and conservationists agree that no place on earth is completely untouched by humanity, either due to past occupation or through global processes like climate change, but in a wilderness area, human impact is still minimal.
"Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected". Only 23 percent of the world's dry land remained as wilderness.
Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have for the first time produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity. The results reveal that 70% of such untouched wilderness is located in just five countries around the world - Russia, Canada, Brazil, United States, and Australia.
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The global team that constructed the maps excluded Antarctica for the duel reasons that it is not open to direct resource exploitation, and it is much more hard to assess the indirect effects of human activities. In the period from 1993 to 2009, human settlements, agricultural lands, and the industry has taken 3.3 million square kilometers of undeveloped areas. But nearly two-thirds of marine wilderness lies in worldwide waters, beyond the direct control of nations. (3,861 sq. mi.). The survey excludes Antarctica and the open seas, but the authors note that marine regions "free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are nearly completely confined to the polar regions". "Already we have lost so much", the report says.
"We need the immediate establishment of bold wilderness targets - specifically those aimed at conserving biodiversity, avoiding risky climate change and achieving sustainable development", said Allan.
A global target of retaining 100% of all remaining wilderness is achievable, although it would require stopping industrial activities like mining, logging, and fishing from expanding to new places.
It's crucial that these five nations take an active leadership role in protecting what's left of the wild areas, and all other countries step in as well, researchers add. "One obvious intervention these nations can prioritise is establishing protected areas in ways that would slow the impacts of industrial activity on the larger landscape or seascape", Watson said.
Under UNESCO World Heritage Convention, some wilderness areas are protected as Natural World Heritage Sites. Key to this will be lenders' investment and performance standards, particularly for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the regional development banks.
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