7 July, Nathan campus
With Earth’s natural systems experiencing unprecedented change, and the world’s population likely to reach 12 billion people this century, there is a need to better understand how humans are exerting pressures on natural environments and what this means for conservation efforts. Using the ‘Human Footprint’ framework, my colleagues and I have recently constructed a globally-standardized measure of cumulative human pressure on the terrestrial environment at 1 km2 resolution over the past decades. This analysis show that at least three quarters of the planet is under measurable human pressure, and there is a near deterministic relationship between the suitability of land for agriculture and the severity, extent and growth of these pressures. Significantly, we discovered a dramatic reduction in the size and extend of large intact landscapes across Earth, especially in tropical forested systems, over the past two decades. In this presentation, I will explore what this loss means for biodiversity conservation in a time of rapid climate change. In doing so, I will draw attention to a significant research gap that is pervasive in the conservation-climate adaptation discipline: while we are getting better at understanding what climate change means for biodiversity, we are ignoring what the likely human response to climate change will be, and are therefore blind to what this means for conservation and natural resource management in the long-term. I will showcase the implications of this via a number of case studies from different parts of the world, highlighting the imperative not only to imbed the human response to climate change into conservation planning efforts, but also to implement these plans to ensure the best chance of keeping some of our last great natural areas intact.
James Watson is a Principle Research Fellow at University of Queensland and a Lead Scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. For the past six years, James has directed WCS’s climate change program, leading the planning and implementation of climate adaptation and REDD+ projects throughout WCS’s landscape, seascape, and species conservation programs. During this time he has worked in more than 20 countries, helping to apply innovative methods projects as diverse as ecosystem-based adaptation planning for coastal fisher communities in Papua New Guinea to impact assessment of large-scale industrial development across Africa’s Albertine Rift. James’ has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers on different aspects of conservation science. He currently serves on the leadership committee for the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) Initiative, the International Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Data and Knowledge Task Force, and the IUCN’s climate change working group and offset policy working group. He was recently elected the global president of the Society for Conservation Biology.