Surge in Land and Ocean Protections Traced to Growing Popular Concern for Nature around the World

Traslasierra National Park in Argentina’s Córdoba Province is one of six new parks created by Argentine leaders in 2018 – a national record for a single year. Photo credit: Francisco González Táboas.

Traslasierra National Park in Argentina’s Córdoba Province is one of six new parks created by Argentine leaders in 2018 – a national record for a single year. Photo credit: Francisco González Táboas.

The rapid loss of biodiversity and natural areas around the world is fueling rising popular demand for lawmakers and policy-makers to enact stronger protections for land and ocean areas, according to a new review of public polling data from seven nations. The analysis, conducted by the Wyss Campaign for Nature, helps explain the origins of a recent surge in protected area designations and expanded park networks around the world; it also suggests that there is a broad foundation of support for more ambitious international efforts to conserve the planet’s remaining lands and oceans.

“Widespread public concern for the loss of wildlife and wild places is driving nature conservation higher and higher on the list of issues that policy-makers are tackling around the world,” said Greg Zimmerman, Senior Fellow with the Wyss Campaign for Nature and the report’s author. “This popular demand for stronger land and ocean protections should give world leaders the encouragement they need to establish more ambitious global nature conservation goals.”

The new report examines recent public opinion data from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, and the U.K – all nations that have taken recent steps to expand protections for land or ocean areas, and where recent public opinion research is available.

These seven nations are, in part, responsible for the recent uptick of global conservation. In the last decade, more than three million square kilometers of land, an area about the size of India, has received permanent protection. Nearly 22 million square kilometers of ocean, more than two United States-size areas worth of ocean, have been afforded marine protected area status.

Overwhelming majorities of survey respondents in each country analyzed express a desire for stronger nature protections. For example:

  • In Canada, 86 percent of voters support protecting and conserving more natural spaces in Canada. The Canadian government has taken steps in recent years to significantly expand marine protected areas. In 2015, less than 1 percent of Canada’s marine territory was permanently protected; today, nearly 14 percent of the nation’s oceans are protected.

  • 67 percent of residents in the United Kingdom believe biodiversity and healthy nature are important for long-term economic development. Earlier this year, the UK announced protections for over 40 new Marine Conservation Zones, safeguarding 12,000 square kilometers of critical coastal and marine habitat up-and-down the UK’s coast.

  • 81 percent of Argentines support candidates for elected office who promote the creation of national parks and protected areas. In 2018, Argentine leaders created four new terrestrial and two new marine parks – more than any other year in the nation’s history.

Recent assessments of the condition of nature on the planet have painted a grim picture. According to a 2019 U.N. report, authored by 450 scientific experts, up to one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, many within decades. Three-quarters of the Earth’s lands and two-thirds of its oceans have been heavily modified by humans.

In response to the worsening condition of nature, the leaders of more than 190 nations are busy negotiating an agreement – to be finalized during an October 2020 meeting in China at the Convention on Biological Diversity – to protect at-risk wildlife, accelerate the pace of land and ocean conservation, and slow the rate at which we are losing plant and animal species.

“It’s hard to overstate how important the next 12 months will be for the diversity of life on our planet,” continued Zimmerman. “From the U.N. General Assembly meeting next week in New York through next year’s Convention on Biological Diversity meetings in China, world leaders have a window of opportunity to set meaningful targets for protecting the natural systems upon which we all depend.”

A growing coalition of scientists, indigenous groups, government leaders, environmental groups, business leaders, and philanthropists, are coalescing around a goal to protect at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030. More than 110 groups around the world have endorsed that goal, and 19 of the world’s leading scientists published a study in Science Advances earlier this year to make a data-driven, science-backed case for protecting more of the planet.

The Wyss Campaign for Nature launched last year with a commitment by philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss – founder and chairman of the Wyss Foundation – to invest $1 billion in the conservation of nature over the course of the next decade to help communities, indigenous peoples, and nations conserve 30 percent of the planet in its natural state by 2030.


Greg Zimmerman