This BBC news item came to my attention this morning: “World’s wilderness reduced by a tenth since 1990s”. Considering the BBC’s long term obsession with promoting climate change™ as the greatest threat facing mankind and the planet since our mouse-like mammalian ancestors scurried around the feet of T Rex, it is a remarkable example of a complete lack of self-awareness on the part of the Beeb. The paper they unassumingly link to which makes this claim puts the blame for “catastrophic” environmental degradation and species decline since 1990 not on climate change™ but firmly upon exploitation/encroachment of industry/infrastructure/change of land use. Furthermore, the authors are highly critical of the fact that the loss of precious wilderness areas has been virtually ignored by international environmental organisations and international treaties whose raison d’etre is supposedly to protect the global environment, in particular the UNFCC and the Paris Agreement. Oh dear!
The main findings of the study are summarised here:
Globally important wilderness areas are ignored in conservation policy
We reveal that extensive losses of wilderness have occurred in the last two decades
Efforts aimed at protecting wilderness areas are failing to keep pace with its loss
International policy must recognize the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas
What we have here is a clear case of serious actual physical environmental degradation taking place on a global scale over two decades, largely ignored by governments and environmental lobby groups, concurrent with 20 years of exhaustive international efforts to conserve a hypothetical future environment; efforts which have sucked up truly staggering amounts of financial, political, intellectual and social capital that might have been better put to good use in preserving global wilderness areas.
I’ve been saying for some time that this is the case, as have other people. This important paper demonstrates it and moreover quantifies what might be the actual environmental cost of ignoring real problems in favour of focusing on climate change research and mitigation. Also, as the authors point out, largely ignoring real loss of natural habitat has contributed significantly to global CO2 emissions, thereby actively undermining the fight against climate change anyway. The IPCC have not ignored deforestation and change of land use, but it seems they have seriously underestimated the actual harm being done to areas of wilderness on a global scale.
Here is a summary of important quotes from the paper which I believe are self-explanatory and pretty damning as far as the modern climate change obsessed Green movement is concerned [I’ve highlighted particularly relevant points in bold]:
Despite the myriad values of wilderness areas—as critical strongholds for endangered biodiversity , for carbon storage and sequestration , for buffering and regulating local climates , and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalized communities —they are almost entirely ignored in multilateral environmental agreements.
We demonstrate alarming losses comprising one-tenth (3.3 million km2) of global wilderness areas over the last two decades, particularly in the Amazon (30%) and central Africa (14%).
We mapped decline of wilderness areas, defining ‘‘wilderness’’ as biologically and ecologically largely intact landscapes that are mostly free of human disturbance [2–4, 11]. These areas do not exclude people, as many are in fact critical to certain communities, including indigenous peoples [14, 15]. Rather, they have lower levels of impacts from the kinds of human uses that result in significant biophysical disturbance to natural habitats, such as large-scale land conversion, industrial activity, or infrastructure development.
The current levels of non-protection and consequent loss of wilderness areas across the planet have important ramifications for achieving global climate mitigation goals . For example, the total stock of terrestrial ecosystem carbon (_1,950 petagrams of Carbon [Pg C]) is greater than that of oil (_173 Pg C), gas (_383 Pg C), coal (_446 Pg C), or the atmosphere (_598 Pg C) , and a significant proportion of this carbon is found in the globally significant wilderness areas of the tropics and boreal region [8, 24]. It is estimated that 32% of the total global stock of forest biomass carbon is stored in the boreal forest biome  and that the Amazon region stores nearly 38% (86.1 Pg C) of the carbon (228.7 Pg C) found above ground in the woody vegetation of tropical America, Africa, and Asia . Thus, 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. Protection of intact forest ecosystems from industrial land uses is particularly important, given that they store more carbon than degraded forests and are more resilient to external perturbations, including climate variability, fire, and illegal logging, poaching, and mining [8, 26].
The recent severe loss of wilderness is impacting options for achieving strategic goals outlined in key multilateral environmental agreements, including the CBD’s 2020 Aichi Targets and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement [22, 39].
International polices do not acknowledge the special qualities and benefits that flow from ecosystem processes operating at large scales. For example, there is no formal text within the UNFCCC, United Nations World Heritage Convention (WHC), or CBD that prioritizes or even recognizes the benefits derived from large intact landscapes for nature and people.
The lack of recognition of wilderness in global accords and national policy also has implications for international funding programs such as the Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund, and Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, which are distributing billions of dollars in support for programs to help achieve the goals of multilateral environmental agreements. Within the CBD funding mechanisms, for example, 80% of funds have been allocated to nations with <20% of all wilderness area(Figures 3 and S2). The neglect of wilderness is arguably even more acute in funding under the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement finance discussions. Although there is strong financing for forest conservation under the UNFCCC REDD+ mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, the rules stipulate that this financing must target areas with high baseline levels of deforestation . Such efforts, though valuable for other purposes, serve to direct funds away from forested wilderness areas that are presumed safe from deforestation and degradation. As our results demonstrate, however, wilderness is under immense land use pressures, and there is an urgent need for greater conservation effort in these areas to help maintain their ecological intactness and integrity of function.
. . . . . . there is a clear need to focus on halting current threatening activities that have been leading to the recent erosion of wilderness areas, including limiting road expansion ; preventing industrial mining, forestry, and other large-scale agricultural operations ; and enforcing existing legal frameworks considering that half of all tropical forest clearing between l2000 and 2012 was illegal [44–46].