Retaining natural vegetation to safeguard biodiversity and humanity

  • Jeremy Simmonds (Creator)
  • Andres Felipe Suarez-Castro (Creator)
  • April E. Reside (Creator)
  • James E.M. Watson (Creator)
  • James Allan (Creator)
  • Scott Atkinson (Creator)
  • Pasquale Borrelli (Creator)
  • Nigel Dudley (Creator)
  • Stephen Edwards (International Union for Conservation of Nature) (Creator)
  • Richard Fuller (Creator)
  • Edward Game (Creator)
  • Simon Linke (Creator)
  • Sean Maxwell (Creator)
  • Panos Panagos (Creator)
  • Philippe Puydarrieux (Creator)
  • Fabien Quétier (Creator)
  • Rebecca K. Runting (Creator)
  • Talitha Santini (Creator)
  • Laura J. Sonter (Creator)
  • Martine Maron (Creator)



Humanity is on a pathway of unsustainable loss of the natural systems upon which we, and all life, rely. To date, global efforts to deliver internationally-agreed goals to reduce carbon emissions, halt biodiversity loss, and retain essential ecosystem services, have been poorly integrated. All these goals rely in part on preserving natural (e.g. native, largely unmodified) and semi-natural (e.g. under some form of low-intensity/sustainable human use) forests, woodlands and grasslands. Here, we show how to unify these goals by empirically deriving spatially explicit, quantitative area-based targets for the retention of natural and semi-natural (e.g. native) terrestrial vegetation. We found that at least 67 million km2 of Earth's terrestrial vegetation (∼79% of the area of vegetation remaining) requires retention – via sustainable and appropriate land use and management – to contribute to biodiversity, climate, soil and freshwater objectives under four United Nations Resolutions. This equates to retaining natural and semi-natural vegetation across at least 50% of the total terrestrial (excluding Antarctica) surface of Earth. Our results show where retention efforts could contribute to multiple goals simultaneously. Such management can and should co-occur alongside and be driven by the people who live in and rely on places where natural and sustainably managed vegetation remains in situ, and must be complemented by restoration and appropriate management of more human-modified environments, if global goals are to be realised.
Date made available28 Feb 2023

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