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Fate of wild places in five countries’ hands

More than 70% of Earth’s last untouched wilderness lies in the territories of just five countries, most of which have alarmed environmentalists with their lukewarm response to climate change.

This is according to new research published in the journal Nature, which found that nearly three-quarters of the wilderness that’s left is in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia and the United States.

True wild spaces — land and sea areas mostly unaffected by humanity’s explosive expansion and appetite for food and natural resources — now cover just a quarter of the planet. These places are refuges for thousands of endangered species, and provide some defences against the devastating weather events brought about by climate change.

“A few countries own a lot of this untouched land and they have a massive responsibility to keep the last of the wild,” said James Watson, professor of conservation science at the University of Queensland and the lead author.

Russia is vague about its conservation commitments and President Vladimir Putin suggested last year that climate change was not caused by humans. President Donald Trump has said the US is leaving the Paris deal on climate change, and Brazil last week elected a right-winger who has pledged to rescind legal protections for the Amazon rain forest.

Just 23% of land is untouched by agriculture and industry. A century ago that figure stood at 85%.

The conservation group WWF warned this week that human consumption had decimated global wildlife and triggered a mass-extinction event. In the past 40 years populations of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals have plummeted, on average, by 60%.

The scientists warned that Earth’s wild places were facing “the same extinction crisis as species”.

As well as being havens for biodiversity, wildernesses such as the boreal forest in Canada — which acts as a carbon sink — form the planet’s frontline protection against runaway climate change.

But the scientists also noted that “there’s time [for politicians] to break the mould and show some leadership”.

They called for greater legislation and reform at global finance initiatives to protect unspoilt areas. — AFP

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