A new article reported in Conservation Biology suggests that the ability for big countries to contribute to environmental protection is being ignored.
The scientists, across 13 universities and three countries, were headed by UBC Okanagan’s Laura Coristine and Adam T. Ford. They recently analyzed the influence of individual country while considering the protection of ecosystem values. And the scientists state that it is not—nor should it be—a level playing field.
Loss of habitat is currently the single biggest threat to biodiversity and is being driven by an ever-expanding human footprint. We asked which countries had the most to contribute to protecting nature and important environmental values.
Laura Coristine, UBC Okanagan
Ford, a Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology, states that the scientists computed the land mass of the countries in the world and then compared this to the availability of ecosystem values. The eight largest countries, namely, Russia, Canada, America, China, Brazil, Australia, India, and Argentina, make up 50% of the Earth’s total land mass. However, just 3% of the world’s nations are represented by those same countries.
“Larger countries accumulate greater amounts of ecosystem values,” says Ford, and so, the authority to make decisions that influence the world’s environment—for worse or better—is possessed by only a few nations.
For this latest study, the researchers assessed six globally noteworthy ecosystem values for all the countries of the world: freshwater availability, intact lands, breeding habitat for migratory wildlife, productive marine environments, the potential for range shift in the face of climate change, and soil carbon storage. By taking a closer look at these particular values, Coristine says the team showed many unnoticed possibilities for high-impact contributions to global conservation.
For instance, with regards to freshwater availability, Coristine explains that over half of the world’s total water supply (surface and glacier stored) is found in just three countries—China, Canada, and Kyrgyzstan. How these countries manage and protect these water supplies influences the world as a whole.
“The water policies of these three nations control half of the world's ‘tap’ of water and will have consequences not only for the global persistence of a wide variety of ecosystems,” Coristine says, “but also for global water security.”
The same argument can be used when considering the continental shelves. Usually, the management of continental shelves is owned by the neighboring nation. The domestic policies of that country can have a significant effect on the sustainability of marine resources, with trickle-down effects to nations with much lesser contributions to the continental shelf region.
Russia, Canada, Australia, and the United States are the greatest contributors to the worldwide supply of continental shelf area. Canada and Russia are on the top of the list when it comes to intact wilderness, and 50% of the world’s least impacted lands is found in those two countries.
To conclude, the authors state that the domestic policies of a few nations, including Canada and Russia, can excessively impact the global supply of ecosystem values. Simultaneously, the national policies of these nations can have environmental consequences for the remaining nations.
Conservation superpowers—like Canada and Russia—have much greater leverage than we would predict based on their land mass. They have tremendous potential to impact global conservation outcomes through accumulation of ecosystem values and through policies that support conservation.
Laura Coristine, UBC Okanagan