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Social impact of biodiversity conservation

January 2020: Plans to place 50% of Earth’s oceans and land under protection may have significant social and economic impact on people. These impacts should be taken into consideration when formulating conservation strategies at the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020.


Increasing climate protests have given rise to voices calling to reserve 50% of Earth’s surface for nature. A recent study has been investigating the social and economic implications of such conservation targets. The assessment suggests that approximately 1 billion additional people – a 400% increase from current figures - would be living in eco-regions, particularly in large areas of distinct habitats such as central African mangroves and Baltic mixed forests. The majority of new eco-regions would need to be established in middle-income countries and many wealthy and densely populated areas in the global north would need to be cleared to achieve conservation targets.

Implications and opportunities

The findings underline the importance of integrating environmental justice and human wellbeing when establishing conservation targets. It suggests that social and economic implications at the local level should be considered to deliver effective conservation strategies for both people and the planet. The results seek to inform the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020 whose emerging goals may be determining conservation strategies for the next decades. The paper identifies that new eco-regions would require transition strategies that mitigate social consequences of placing habitats under protection or clearing large areas of land. It further recommends against fortress conservation and suggests that failing to consider social issues may significantly reduce the probability of introducing effective conservation measurements.


The study is a large-scale study that models future scenarios for conservation strategies and all recommendations should be seen within the parameters of their methodology.


Schleicher, J., Zaehringer, J.G., Fastre, C., (2019). Protecting half of the planet could directly affect over one billion people. Nature Sustainability.

Newsweek. (2019). Keeping half the planet human free to protect animals would affect over a billion people, study finds. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.