Handful of states hold fate of world’s vanishing wilderness

More than 70 percent of Earth’s last untouched wilderness lies in the territories of just five countries, scientists said Wednesday — mostly nations that alarm environmentalists with their lukewarm response to climate change.

True wild spaces — land and sea areas mostly unaffected by mankind’s explosive expansion and insatiable appetite for food and natural resources — now cover just a quarter of the planet.

They form vital refuges for thousands of endangered species threatened by deforestation and overfishing, and provide some of our best defences against the devastating weather events brought about by climate change.

New research published in the journal Nature found that nearly three quarters of the wilderness that’s left belongs to Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia, and the US.

“For the first time we’ve mapped both land and marine wilderness and showed that there’s actually not much left,” James Watson, professor of conservation science at the University of Queensland and lead paper author, told AFP.

“A few countries own a lot of this untouched land and they have a massive responsibility to keep the last of the wild.”

Researchers used open-source data on eight indicators of human impact on wilderness, including urban environments, farm land and infrastructure projects.

For oceans, they used data on fishing, industrial shipping and fertiliser run-off to determine that just 13 percent of the planet’s seas bore little or no hallmarks of human activity.

In a week when scientists warned that animals were being driven to the brink of extinction by runaway consumption, the paper’s findings that most remaining wilderness lies with just five nations will likely set conservationists’ nerves on further edge.

Russia’s vast swathes of taiga forest and permafrost contains trillions of trees that suck carbon from the atmosphere, tempering the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

But Russia has been vague in its conservation commitments and President Vladimir Putin suggested last year that climate change was not caused by humans.

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