A tenth of the world’s wilderness has been lost since the early 1990s and if trends continue there could be no wilderness left on the planet by 2100, according to new study published in the journal Current Biology. The researchers found that an area twice the size of Alaska and half the size of the Amazon — 3.3 million square kilometres — has been destroyed by human activities such as large-scale land conversion, industrial activity and infrastructure development. That equals to approximately 9.6 percent of the world’s wilderness. The most losses have occurred in South America (29.6 percent loss) and Africa (14 percent loss). The researchers discovered that 30.1 million square kilometres (23.2 percent of the world’s terrestrial areas) now remains as wilderness.

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“Globally important wilderness areas — despite being strongholds for endangered biodiversity, for buffering and regulating local climates, and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalized communities — are completely ignored in environmental policy,” said the study’s lead author Dr. James Watson of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. “Without any policies to protect these areas, they are falling victim to widespread development. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around. International policy mechanisms must recognize the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late.”

Related: Report Shows That Protected Wilderness Areas Are Excellent Drivers for the Economy

The loss of the world’s wilderness would have disastrous consequences for mitigating climate change because forests store vast quantities of carbon that if released into the atmosphere would accelerate global warming. The authors write that “avoiding emissions by protecting the globally significant wilderness areas of the boreal and Amazon in particular will make a significant contribution to stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2.” The study argues that global action is needed to protect forests from the threat of industrial forestry, oil and gas exploration, human-induced fires and rapid climate change because these forests can be converted from beneficial carbon sinks to harmful carbon emitters. The loss of wilderness also threatens many land-based mammals that are on the red list of endangered species.

The study warns that wilderness loss is irreversible and that immediate action on a global scale must be undertaken to protect the remaining wilderness areas from human encroachment to ensure “that intact ecosystems and large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes persist for the benefit of future generations.”

+ Study: Catastrophic Declines in Wilderness Areas Undermine Global Environment Targets

Via The Guardian

Images via Wikimedia and Current Biology