Question: Why are Australia, the US, Brazil, Russia and Canada so important in the battle to save our environment? Answer: Because they hold 70 per cent of the world's remaining untouched wilderness areas and urgent international action is needed to protect them.
University of Queensland and Wildlife Conservation Society researchers have produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity. The data exclude untouched wilderness in Antarctica and on the high seas that is not contained within national borders.
In 2016 the team of scientists produced data that charted the planet's remaining terrestrial wilderness and this year it examined which parts of the world's oceans remain free from the damaging impacts of human activity. They found that more than 77 per cent of land — excluding Antarctica — and 87 per cent of oceans have been modified by human intervention.
The researchers say the planet's remaining wilderness can be protected "only if it is recognised within international policy frameworks". They are calling for an international target that protects 100 per cent of all remaining intact ecosystems.
This target is considered achievable and all nations need to do is stop industry from going into those places. The five countries responsible for most of the world's remaining wilderness have been called on to provide leadership and to protect these areas through legislation or by offering incentives to businesses that do not erode nature.
It is estimated that animals are becoming extinct 1000 times faster than they would have without human influence. To fight that growing trend, conservation groups are increasingly turning to converting biologically rich lands into conservation plots like national parks and marine protected areas.
The push back was boosted recently when the Wyss Foundation, a charity focused on protecting wild places, announced it is donating $1 billion to launch the Wyss Campaign for Nature. The money will go toward a UN goal to protect 30 per cent of the Earth by 2030.
Wyss is partnering with the National Geographic Society, the Nature Conservancy, and Argentine conservation group Fundacion Flora y Fauna. One of the initiatives in the campaign will focus on empowering local groups to take up stewardship of their land in their region.
Indigenous groups, despite only comprising 5 per cent of the global population, manage 38 million square kilometres of land. By empowering these groups, environmentalists say wild areas will be better protected from outside influences like industrial development.
Fundacion Flora y Fauna Sofia Heinonen is in the process of buying land containing Argentinian mountain glaciers that provide drinking water to those living in the region. With the Wyss donation, the group will also train local community leaders and create more eco-tourism opportunities.
Helping people understand why nature is important and having the resources to do so are two of the biggest conservation roadblocks.
In addition to purchasing biodiverse wilderness areas to be managed by national parks and conservation groups, the campaign will fund science that supports conservation measures, lead awareness campaigns, and lobby international governmental groups to raise targets.
Dave Scoullar is a tramper, conservationist and member of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust.