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50/50: The plan to save life on Earth

Thriving nature is essential to life on Earth. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, are all pillars of human survival that depend on a series of delicately balanced interactions with the natural world.

But these systems are being thrown dangerously off balance by an onslaught of human activities. From pesticides on our fields, to plastics choking our oceans, to chainsaws in the Amazon, all over the planet the natural world is under assault.

This crisis has now reached a scale that threatens everything. Species extinction is running at 1000 times the natural rate, and scientists warn that two-thirds of wild animals will have vanished by 2020. As with climate change, there is now growing concern that dangerous tipping points could be triggered, causing the collapse of nature itself, and threatening human survival.

Scientists are sounding the alarm, and now they are calling for a simple solution -- 50/50 -- half of the planet spared from harmful activities and the other half of the planet shared with nature. The result is a planet where all life has a chance to flourish.

50/50 is the kind of ambitious, clear goal that inspires everyone -- citizens, governments, and businesses -- to take the steps needed to save life on Earth. And the key to making it happen will be a major UN summit in China set for October 2020, where governments will set new global targets to protect the planet.

It’s being called a Global Deal for Nature1, and by making 50/50 the top global goal for this deal, we can restore harmony between humans and the Earth. Here’s how....

How do we protect half the planet? 
  • It's possible -- Just over half of the planet is now exploited by humans2 - that means land which is converted from forests to farmland, or oceans used for industrial fishing. First and foremost, 50/50 is about stopping and reversing that trend and giving more space to nature, and the communities of people who live in harmony with it - like many of the world’s indigenous groups. 
  • It’s flexible -- The 50/50 target would not require 50% protection for each country, but rather for the whole world. 15% of the planet is already protected, now it’s about scaling up these areas! Under the plan, scientists have identified around 850 key areas to protect worldwide. 
  • It’s inclusive -- This doesn’t mean we put a fence around protected areas and kick people off of the land! Depending on a region’s location, it’s biodiversity richness, and their role in larger ecological systems, the protection plan will vary. But to work, they’ll need to be developed with the support of those who know best: scientists, local communities, and indigenous peoples. For example, some marine protected areas should still allow local populations to catch and consume fish, so long as it doesn’t dangerously deplete the stock.
  • It’s scientific -- Protecting half the Earth isn’t a new idea -- many scientists and conservation experts already agree that this is what the planet needs, but there are different ways to get there! 
    • One study concludes that for nature to thrive, 25 percent to 75 percent of a given natural area will need some form of protection from destructive activities3.
    • The idea is being championed by one of the world’s leading biologists, EO Wilson. He has now released a book called “Half Earth: the struggle to save the rest of life”. 
    • The IUCN, the world’s largest conservation body, has backed protection for half the planet protected, and the rest 100% sustainably managed. 
  • It’s global -- Nature doesn’t follow human-made borders, so nor can this solution. The Global Deal for Nature must be built in a way that encourages governments to develop National Nature Action Plans which create the policy changes needed to shift our economic behavior away from destruction of nature. And given most of the world’s remaining biodiversity is in the global south a deal can establish a Nature fund to support poorer countries in meeting their goals. 
  • It’s sustainable -- Conservation scientists have shown that only by conserving half the planet will we be able to feed people and have adequate water resources as the human population rises4. And the recent EAT report by the Lancet Commission shows how agriculture needs can be met with the protection of half the Earth.
  • It's popular -- Millions of people around the world are adding their name to the Avaaz call to protect half our Earth. Add yours here: www.avaaz.org/nature 
Footnotes:
1 - Scientists call for Paris style agreement to save life on earth (The Guardian) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2018/jun/28/scientists-call-for-a-paris-style-agreement-to-save-life-on-earth  
2 - Half the world's ecosystems at risk from habitat loss (the Conversation) https://theconversation.com/half-the-worlds-ecosystems-at-risk-from-habitat-loss-and-australia-is-one-of-the-worst-64663
3 - Nature needs half: A necessary and hopeful new agenda for protected areas (Locke) https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/parks_19_2_locke.pdf
4 - Andrew Balmford FRS, Professor of Conservation Science, Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, How to Spare Half a Planet, Space for Nature Symposium, 28 Feb, 2018: https://www.zsl.org/sites/default/files/media/2018-02/Full%20Programme%20with%20talk%20abstracts%20-%20Space%20for%20Nature%20Symposium.pdf