Tropical forests around the world were destroyed at an increasing rate in 2020 compared with the year before, despite the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic, which reduced demand for some commodities that have spurred deforestation in the past.
Worldwide, loss of primary old-growth tropical forest, which plays a critical role in keeping carbon out of the atmosphere and in maintaining biodiversity, increased by 12 percent in 2020 from 2019, according to the World Resources Institute, a research group based in Washington that reports annually on the subject.
Overall, more than 10 million acres of primary tropical forest was lost in 2020, an area roughly the size of Switzerland. The institute’s analysis said loss of that much forest added more than two and a half billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, or about twice as much as is spewed into the air by cars in the United States every year.
pro-development policies of the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, led to continued widespread clear-cutting. Surging forest losses were also reported in Cameroon in West Africa. And in Colombia, losses soared again last year after a promising drop in 2019.
a severe fire season, with 16 times more forest loss in 2020 than the year before.
anecdotal reports from Brazil and other countries suggested that deforestation was rising because of the pandemic, as the health crisis hampered governments’ efforts to enforce bans on clear-cutting, and as workers who lost their jobs because of the downturn migrated out of cities to rural areas to farm. But Mr. Taylor said the analysis showed “no obvious systemic shift” in forest loss as a result of the pandemic.
If anything, the crisis and the resulting global economic downturn should have led to less overall forest loss, as demand, and prices, for palm oil and other commodities fell. While falling demand may have helped improve the situation in Indonesia and a few other countries, Ms. Seymour said that globally it was “astonishing that in a year that the global economy contracted somewhere between 3 and 4 percent, primary forest loss increased by 12 percent.”
Global Land Analysis and Discovery laboratory at the University of Maryland, who have devised methods for analyzing satellite imagery to determine forest cover. The World Resources Institute refers to their findings as “forest cover loss” rather than “deforestation” because the analysis includes trees lost from plantations and does not distinguish between trees lost to human activities and those lost to natural causes.
STEEPLE CLAYDON, England — A chorus of bird song gives way to the roar of a chain saw and then the creaking and splintering of timber. A 50-foot tree sways, wobbles and finally crashes to the ground, while protesters shout and jeer.
The construction of the British government’s largest public works project — a high-speed rail line known as HS2 — has long been promoted as helping to save the environment. But it is under growing challenge from those who accuse it of doing the exact opposite.
They have waged a mostly fruitless fight against the project, a grand scheme to cut air and road travel by connecting the north of England to the more prosperous south with trains traveling at up to 225 miles per hour.
Now, with the pandemic prompting a surge in working from home and a slump in train travel, the opponents believe the argument is finally tilting their way, eroding the already shaky rationale for an effort that could cost more than $140 billion.
thought to have cost the project around £50 million already. Activists caught the authorities by surprise when they occupied tunnels dug near Euston Station in London, where the line starts and where Larch Maxey, a veteran of such protests, spent three weeks underground despite suffering from claustrophobia.
“I was living in an incredibly confined space, but it got better in the second and third weeks and it became an empowering experience,” he said in an interview. He described the project as “a 20th century scheme foisted on the 21st century,” adding, “The business model for HS2 was always shaky — it was based around the expected growth of business travel — and that has disappeared.”
At a protest camp at Jones Hill Wood, about 25 miles from Steeple Claydon, activists have built tree houses and other shelters on a landscape that inspired the writer Roald Dahl, and where tree felling was scheduled last year.
They say they have worked hard to monitor wildlife, including the location of badger dens and bat colonies, to hold officials to their promises to protect some species. But construction work is going on behind a green metal fence erected by security guards who take video footage on their phones of anyone who approaches.
Sitting around a campfire, Ross Monaghan, an activist who has spent a year here, much of it sleeping in a treehouse 80 feet above the ground, said it was “a victory that Jones Hill Wood is still standing, but we haven’t won that battle yet.”
To prevent more felling, he said, “people are going to have to step forward, put their bodies on the line, put their freedom on the line, and I think you will see that happen.”
The challenges of the past year gave designers every reason to recede into the shadows, but creativity won’t be denied.
If anything, they are finding inspiration in global upheaval. From hundreds of possibilities, here are just a few examples we selected of projects begun or realized despite closed borders, disrupted supply chains and economic collapse.
Designers are recycling the rubble from Mexico City’s streets, for example, creating play spaces so Beirut’s children can find comfort in a city ripped apart by an explosion and proposing textiles as a building material to replace environmentally cruel concrete. More than just surmounting challenges, many are looking ahead to a greener, healthier and more equitable world.
Dadaï, a Thai, Vietnamese and dim sum restaurant that opened in August in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, takes its inspiration from the avant-garde Dada art movement — or at least a 21st-century Japanese interpretation of it.
A chevron, or zigzag, pattern covers the walls, floor and ceiling. Arched bays are filled with classical-style nude statues that look as if they’ve been ensnared in webs of washi tape. And at the center of the dining room, angled vertiginously over the bar, is a giant photographic portrait of a woman interrupted by collaged smears of color.
Located in the new, fashion-centric Miyashita Park retail development, the restaurant’s design, by Yasumichi Morita of the aptly named Tokyo studio Glamorous, makes no obvious concessions to a post-pandemic world. (Japan’s self-described “state of emergency” ended on March 21.)
Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona designs a self-sufficient structure aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. But the class of 2019-2020 chose to take on another global crisis by imagining an architectural response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had two crises at the same time,” said Vicente Guallart, a director of the master’s program in advanced ecological buildings and biocities. “And the question was what we can learn about that.”
Over five months and under strict quarantine conditions, Mr. Guallart and his co-director Daniel Ibáñez led the group of 17 students in constructing an ecological wood cabin, known as the Voxel, a structure designed with everything one might need to quarantine for 14 days. The design was executed with just 40 pine trees, all harvested less than a mile from the construction site in Barcelona’s Collserola Natural Park. It also includes solar panels, independent battery storage and a rainwater collection and gray-water recycling system.
The roughly 130-square-foot cabin, which rises almost 14 feet, now stands nearly camouflaged among the same pines used to construct it. valldaura.net
17th-century home near Montpellier in southern France with a newly frescoed ceiling in his 250-square-foot bedroom.
The fresco’s single-named artist, Rochegaussen, had worked with Mr. Yovanovitch previously on a restaurant interior in London (he painted cutlery and cookware on a field of cobalt over the chef’s table). Given carte blanche for the bedroom, Rochegaussen arranged woodland animals in his signature energetic line — a motif Mr. Yovanovitch described as “a joyful Mediterranean dance.” The creatures were inspired by fauna from a Provençal forest and include boar, snakes and owls. The designer said that a refreshed environment helped him stay inspired, especially in a period of isolation. And, he added, “there’s something so special about looking up from bed and seeing a painting.” pierreyovanovitch.com, rochegaussen.com
branch institution in Tianjin welcomed its inaugural class of graduate students to a campus designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Located about an hour outside of Beijing, the new 350,000-square-foot complex began construction in 2017 and features performance halls, rehearsal rooms and teaching studios, connected by a ground-level lobby that is open to the public. Expansive windows offer visitors a view into the educational and creative processes.
In China, “there’s still a sense of fascination and curiosity with Western music,” said Charles Renfro, the partner in charge of the project, noting that the building was designed to be a teaching aid for both students and the community.
As the building neared completion in early 2020, Mr. Renfro said he spent many evenings viewing video walk-throughs, trusting that the firm’s partners in China were meeting the precise specifications.
HMC Architects, and his colleagues recently completed a speculative design for a mixed-used project on the Lekki peninsula near Lagos, Nigeria. This relatively sparsely populated area in a region of more than 21 million people is being readied to accommodate millions more in the coming years.
Approached by an environmentally minded local developer who is seeking to acquire 400 acres on the peninsula, the architects envisioned a “forest city” with abundant greenery cleansing the air and a narrow street grid that allows breezes to slip past and passively cool buildings. Rain in the monsoon season would fill basins in parks and gardens. Shaded houses would have communal courtyards and reclaim the climate-responsive earthen materials and decorative patterns of precolonial people like the Yoruba.
an estimated 6,000 buildings, including more than 150 schools. This left Etienne Bastormagi, Sandra Richani and Nada Borgi, local architects and urban planners, wondering how they could help their city as children prepare to return to class.
Their Let’s Play initiative, will rebuild playgrounds at six schools affected by the explosion, with help from other architects and volunteers. Construction on the first, at École Secondaire des Filles de la Charité school in the Achrafieh district, just began.
The public-private initiative also reconsiders what a playground can be, incorporating materials, large-scale objects and landscapes that can be experienced or manipulated in more than one way. Rather than jungle gyms, swing sets or slides, the spaces will have colorful platforms, canopies and pathways that encourage directionless play. Such ambiguities are meant to promote experimentation and social interaction outside of the classroom.
The team also hopes that these new ways to play will help children confront the traumas of 2020, blast and coronavirus pandemic alike, by allowing them to feel safe again in their city. “The therapy effect is not just for the kids,” Mr. Bastormagi added. “I think it starts with us.” instagram.com/lets_play_initiative
Safdie Architects, the hospital opened in January with its more than half a million square feet (and more to come) oriented toward courtyards, gardens and a bucolic lake.
According to Sean Scensor, the project’s lead architect, greenery even determines how visitors move through the building: The main pedestrian corridor parallels a bamboo garden, and five wings stretch perpendicularly from this spine to carve out lush courtyards that open onto a lake. A “healing garden” accessible from the oncology department offers sanctuary in a grove of Indian lilac, red and white frangipani trees and scarlet-blossomed royal poinciana.
Visitors also can steal away to a glass-walled chapel tucked into a bamboo enclosure. The goal, Mr. Scensor said, was to avoid “institutional anonymity” in favor of a “new kind of hospital: highly efficient but inherently humane.” chsm.com
Yinka Ilori, a British-Nigerian artist, has spent the last year designing and installing affirmation-laced murals throughout the city — like one in which bubblegum-pink letters announce “Love always wins” against a backdrop suggestive of ice cream cones.
Mr. Ilori recently extended this “theme of positivity,” as he has called it, to table linens, pillows, rugs and socks sold through his website and a few retailers. The latest designs include bone china mugs and plates emblazoned with his chirpy slogans. This venture compensates for “a loss of projects during the pandemic,” he said. And then some. The line has proved so successful that he has hired additional staff members to manage it into a post-Covid future. Mug 45 pounds, or about $62; plate £70, or about $97. yinkailori.com
Shark Tank”) with his first commercial product: a lamp called Lumio that opens like a book. In October, Mr. Gunawan introduced on Kickstarter a second object that similarly trades in the thrill of the unexpected. Teno is a bowl-shaped sculpture, five inches in diameter, with a jagged golden scar — a reference to the Japanese art of repair called kintsugi. Crack open the bowl, and light pours out (it can be increased or dimmed with a tap). Open the sculpture fully, and it becomes a portable Bluetooth speaker.
MT Objects is a ceramics studio that turns out singular pieces referencing local craft traditions and the architectural splendor and battered infrastructure of its home base, Mexico City, and beyond. Thanks to a masked and socially distant pair of artisans employed by the studio, operations have continued throughout the pandemic, said Tony Moxham, a co-founder with Mauricio Paniagua.
In one recent series, slip-cast vessels were drizzled with black glaze in imitation of the tar used by the Totonac people who occupied what is now the state of Veracruz to represent “the moisture, fertility and darkness of the underworld,” Mr. Moxham said. Another collection, described as “brutalist,” is cast from sidewalk rubble and streaked with traditional colonial lead-based glazes from the western state of Michoacán.
“We wanted to create something that was very different from what everyone else was doing,” Mr. Moxham said. “And in Mexico City, almost any sidewalk you walk down has bits of broken concrete.” Prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 per piece. ceramicalamejor.mx/mt-objects
Aïssa Dione’s 2020 collection of textiles carries the vibrant colors and traditional designs of Senegalese handweaving, though reimagined in various sizes and with fibers like raffia, cotton and viscose. The fabrics are produced in Ms. Dione’s workshop in Rufisque, a town outside of Dakar, where she employs nearly 100 Senegalese weavers who work on looms. They are then sold to luxury interior design companies to cover sofas, armchairs and windows in homes around the world.
Ms. Dione’s 2020 collection also continues the textile designer’s nearly 30-year commitment to revitalize the craft and her continued focus on cultivating raw materials from Senegal, rather than importing them. Working locally and small helped her during a year when the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.
It also gave Ms. Dione a chance to develop a client database, organize photos of past work and shoot a film that captures her weavers’ process. “We had time to sit down and develop things we had no time to do,” she said. aissadionetissus.com
DeMuro Das, an interior design studio near New Delhi, unusual materials are a calling card. It has topped a coffee table in unakite, a speckled, metamorphic rock, and lined a cabinet in koto, a West African hardwood. More recently, the founders, Brian DeMuro and Puru Das, tried wrapping a low cabinet with the parchmentlike substance Carta, lending the piece a pretty, mottled surface, like asphalt after a rainstorm.
Pirjo Haikola, a designer in Melbourne, has 3-D-printed coral reefs that are on view at the art and design triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Anna Aagaard Jensen, a Danish artist, and a wig-like lamp by Laurids Gallée, an Austrian-born designer. The lamp is part of a lighting collection, curated by the Brussels dealer Victor Hunt, titled, appropriately enough, “The Lights at the End of the Tunnel.” May 28 to 30. collectible.design
Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm and the curator of a show about the banquet that revels in bespoke table settings, secret menus, eye-popping floral arrangements and glossy evening wear. Timed to open with the — ultimately canceled — 2020 event, it is fully installed and ready for visitors whenever entry is deemed safe.
The show reveals the banquet as a stage for perfectionism — a chance to source the ultimate raspberry for a dessert or prepare the most challenging potato dish.
But it also highlights modest gestures, like the time in 2018 when Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden, recycled the Nina Ricci gown her mother, Queen Silvia, wore to the event in 1995.
“She looked fantastic in it,” Ms. Ahlvik said, though the princess is taller than her mother. “We were all wondering how she did it.” nobelprize.org
KIRIKHAN, Turkey — Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined.
Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying.
The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In Turkey, the gazelle was forgotten and thought to no longer exist. The only ones officially recorded were a subspecies, known as goitered gazelles, in Sanliurfa Province in the southeast of the country.
The rediscovery and survival of the mountain gazelle in Turkey has been largely thanks to one man and his love of nature.
Yasar Ergun, a village teacher who became a veterinarian and professor at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University in the city of Antakya, heard in the mid-1990s from an old hunter that there were wild gazelles in the mountains along the border with Syria.
A keen hiker, he set out to try to find them. Barely 25 miles from Antakya — the ancient city of Antioch — Kurdish villagers knew about them and shepherds occasionally saw them. The gazelles live on the rocky hillsides, where their markings and coloring make them almost invisible. But they come down in groups to graze and find water on the surrounding agricultural land.
The professor spotted his first one in 1998 and, after a decade of observing them, estimated that there were about 100 living in the area.
With a small grant for a teaching project, he bought a camera and telephoto lens, which led to a close encounter and a breakthrough discovery.
“It was the mating season,” he recalled. “I ran to the road, and the male ran toward me to defend his females. It was very unusual.”
When he examined the photos, he realized the gazelles differed from those in southeastern Turkey.
“This one was light brown, with some parts white, and the horns were completely different,” he said. He was sure he was looking at the mountain gazelle, but found little interest in his claims in academic circles, he said.
“I sent the photographs around — professors just laughed,” he said.
He drew on the help of Tolga Kankilic, a biologist, who gathered samples of dung, fur and skin from the remains of dead gazelles for genetic testing, and found that the DNA matched that of mountain gazelles.
The discovery presented Mr. Ergun with an altogether more important task: to help the gazelles survive. There were several threats to them — lack of water and habitat especially — but by far the greatest danger was illegal hunting. Hunting is allowed only under license in designated areas in Turkey, but illegal hunting is rife.
The gazelles had disappeared completely from other regions, including Adana, farther west, where American soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base used to hunt them 20 years ago, he said.
“The end of a genetic source is the same as the collapse of Earth,” he said. “Nature needs biodiversity.”
He won a grant from the World Wildlife Fund in Turkey for a grass-roots project with local villagers and bought mountain gear and amateur walkie-talkies for several shepherds, who began monitoring the gazelles. They dug basins in the rock to collect water for the gazelles, though it took the animals months to trust the water source.
With his knowledge of village life, Mr. Ergun began softly, gaining the support of local shepherds, educating children to protect the gazelles and even encouraging a local Kurdish legend of a holy man who lived with the gazelles and milked them.
With the hunters, Mr. Ergun and his helpers adopted an approach of traditional courtesy and respect, drinking tea with them but never mentioning their hunting.
“We never tried to use force to stop them,” he said. “We would say, ‘Hello, we are from the Nature Project.’ Sometimes silence is more powerful than talking.”
The local people were Kurds, a mountain people with their own language and culture — and a history of resistance to the Turkish state.
“If you make an enemy, just one, in 10 years you will have 10 enemies, and in 100 years you will have 1,000,” Mr. Ergun said. But as the shepherds began monitoring the gazelles, the hunters got the message.
Mr. Ergun also needed the cooperation of the Turkish Army, which has a base in the area. The gazelles occupy a narrow strip of territory along the border a few miles wide and less than 20 miles long that is mostly a restricted military zone.
Yet the military restrictions, and the outbreak of war across the border in Syria 10 years ago, helped the gazelles in unexpected ways. Turkey built a cement wall along the border and dismantled an old buffer fence, which opened up more territory for the gazelles and protected them from straying into Syria, where hunting remains a threat.
The project grew, securing government support for a breeding center and sanctuary for orphaned and injured gazelles. The gazelles began to thrive, increasing from about 235 in 2012 to more than 1,100 last year, according to an official count by Turkish government agencies.
In 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey declared a protected area of 50 square miles for the gazelles, and plans for a cement factory and quarries in the area were canceled.
Turkey is enormously rich in flora and fauna, but is industrializing rapidly and lagging in nature conservation, said Sedat Kalem, the conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund Turkey, which gave two small grants to help start the gazelle project. The government did not step in to rescue the gazelles, and it was left to a local initiative, he said.
“But we were happy to be instrumental in this result,” he said. “The locals have done a great job. If everybody can take care of their own environment, that is the key for overall success for protecting biodiversity.”
Not all of the villagers are convinced of the importance of protecting the gazelles.
“It’s actually a pain,” said Nuray Yildirim as she baked flatbread in an outdoor oven in the village of Incirli. “There are too many of them, and they eat the chickpeas and the wheat.”
But others described the gazelles as a blessing, even holy.
“They have been living here since the time of our ancestors,” said Mehmet Hanafi Cayir, a farmer. “The richness they bring will come to our door.”
Mr. Ergun’s attachment is primarily scientific. He said the increase in gazelles had brought wolves and even hyenas back to the region, which reflects a healthy ecosystem.
He also has plans for the future. As the numbers increase, he wants to reintroduce gazelles to other areas of Turkey and beyond.
“The habitat is suitable for these gazelles,” he said.
“Maybe we can reintroduce them in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq,” he added. “They lost them just 30 years ago. The people of the Middle East suffered so much. We should offer them this.”
Humans who sing karaoke know the feeling. So do birds, apparently, and it’s a big problem for one avian species in Australia.
As the population of the critically endangered regent honeyeater plummeted over the years, some young birds could no longer find older ones to teach them to sing, a new study reports. As a result, the birds have failed to learn the songs they need for courtship and other evolutionary business.
They try to compensate by mimicking songs from other types of birds. But because female regent honeyeaters aren’t easily moved by unfamiliar melodies, the courtship ritual is doomed to fail.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It analyzed sightings of wild regent honeyeaters from July 2015 to December 2019, and field recordings of them from the 1980s to the present.
The researchers found that 12 percent of male regent honeyeaters in the study failed to learn any songs specific to their own species. Straying from the “regional cultural norm” was associated with reduced reproductive success, and learning to sing other birds’ tunes did not help.
“It’s an exquisite piece of work that tells a terrible story,” David Watson, a professor of ecology at Charles Sturt University in Australia who was not involved in the research, said of the new study.
studied the songs of Hawaiian forest birds and was not involved in the Australia research.
“This study adds to a growing understanding that in many animals, like humans, the loss of cultural identity can have far-ranging effects on their ability to persist,” she added.
Regent honeyeaters are a social species that once traveled in large flocks, feeding in flowering eucalyptus and mistletoe trees across an area in Australia from roughly Melbourne to Brisbane. They sing to each other not only for mating, but to mark territory and relay tips on where to find food.
But as temperate woodlands across Australia were cleared in recent decades, the population fell — from about 1,500 birds in the late 1980s to about a fifth that many more than two decades later, according to government data. The species also began to lose turf battles with competitors like the noisy miner, a fellow honeyeater known for its aggressive behavior.
A century ago, “there were lots of regent honeyeaters to stand up to the noisy miners,” said Mick Roderick, a program manager at the advocacy group Birdlife Australia. “But now, because there’s literally just a pair here and a pair here — they are so rare — they’re just sitting ducks.”
A male regent honeyeater typically makes a “warbly noise” similar to that of a small turkey, and claps its beak while it sings, Mr. Crates said. But when young males can’t find mentors to learn from, they try to mimic the songs of other species instead, including one that sounds “metallic” and another that recalls a repetitive whistle.
Mr. Crates said a useful human analogy would be the Indigenous societies in Australia and the United States whose languages have been lost after populations grew too sparse to sustain them.
“It’s nice to be able to speak two languages,” he said, “but if it comes at the expense of speaking your first language and you can’t associate with your friends and family — or anyone you kind of want to maybe date — it comes at a cost.”
With a million species at risk of extinction, dozens of countries are pushing to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030. Their goal is to hammer out a global agreement at negotiations to be held in China later this year, designed to keep intact natural areas like old growth forests and wetlands that nurture biodiversity, store carbon and filter water.
But many people who have been protecting nature successfully for generations won’t be deciding on the deal: Indigenous communities and others who have kept room for animals, plants and their habitats, not by fencing off nature, but by making a small living from it. The key to their success, research shows, is not extracting too much.
In the Brazilian Amazon, Indigenous people put their bodies on the line to protect native lands threatened by loggers and ranchers. In Canada, a First Nations group created a huge park to block mining. In Papua New Guinea, fishing communities have set up no-fishing zones. And in Guatemala, people living in a sprawling nature reserve are harvesting high-value timber in small amounts. In fact, some of those logs could end up as new bike lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge.
several scientific studies. Indigenous-managed lands in Brazil, Canada and Australia have as much or more biodiversity than lands set aside for conservation by federal and other governments, researchers have found.
That is in stark contrast from the history of conservation, which has a troubled record of forcing people off their land. So, it is with a mixture of hope and worry that many Indigenous leaders view this latest global goal, known as 30×30, led by Britain, Costa Rica and France. Some want a higher target — more than 50 percent, according to Mr. Díaz Mirabal’s organization — while others fear that they may once again be pushed out in the name of conservation.
Defending Land, Protecting Vital Forests
In the Brazilian Amazon, Awapu Uru Eu Wau Wau puts his life on the line to protect the riches of his ancestral lands: jaguars, endangered brown woolly monkeys, and natural springs from which 17 important rivers flow. His people, the Indigenous Uru Eu Wau Wau, have legal right to the land, but must constantly defend it from armed intruders.
murdered last April, part of a chilling pattern among land defenders across the Amazon. In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, at least 46 were murdered across Latin America. Many were Indigenous.
The community’s efforts have outsized benefits for the world’s 7.75 billion people: The Amazon, which accounts for half the remaining tropical rainforest in the world, helps to regulate Earth’s climate and nurtures invaluable genetic diversity. Research shows Indigenous property rights are crucial to reducing illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
A Collapse of Nature
Nature is under assault because humans gobble up land to grow food, harvest timber and dig for minerals, while also overfishing the oceans. Making matters worse, the combustion of fossil fuels is warming up the planet and making it harder for animals and plants to survive.
conservationists, has been taken up by a coalition of countries. It will be part of diplomatic negotiations to be held in Kunming, China, this fall, under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. The United States is the only country, apart from the Vatican, that has not joined the convention, though President Biden has ordered up a plan to protect 30 percent of American waters and lands.
Indigenous communities are not recognized as parties to the international agreement. They can come as observers to the talks, but can’t vote on the outcome. Practically though, success is impossible without their support.
They already protect much of the world’s land and water, as David Cooper, deputy executive secretary of the United Nations agency for biodiversity, pointed out. “People live in these places,” he said. “They need to be engaged and their rights respected.”
agreement to protect at least half of the planet. Scientific research backs them up, finding that saving a third of the planet is simply not enough to preserve biodiversity and to store enough planet-warming carbon dioxide to slow down global warming.
Creating a New Kind of Park
A half century ago, where boreal forest meets tundra in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Łutsël K’é’ Dene, one of the area’s Indigenous groups, opposed Canada’s efforts to set up a national park in and around its homeland.
“At that time, Canada’s national parks policies were very negative to Indigenous people’s ways of life,” said Steven Nitah, a former tribal chief. “They used to create national parks — fortress parks, I call it — and they kicked people out.”
But in the 1990s, the Łutsël K’é’ Dene faced a new threat: Diamonds were found nearby. They feared their lands would be gutted by mining companies. So they went back to the Canadian government to revisit the idea of a national park — one that enshrined their rights to manage the land, hunt and fish.
The park opened in 2019. Its name, Thaidene Nëné, means “Land of the Ancestors.”
Collaboration among conservationists, Indigenous nations and governments holds a key to protecting biodiversity, according to research.
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Without local support, creating protected areas can be useless. They often fail to conserve animals and plants, becoming so-called “paper parks.”
Making a Living From Nature
Researchers have found that biodiversity protection often works best when local communities have a stake.
On islands in Papua New Guinea, for example, where fish is a staple, stocks had dwindled in recent decades. Fishers ventured farther from shore and spent more time at sea, but came back with smaller catches. So they partnered with local and international nonprofit groups to try something new. They changed their nets to let smaller fish escape. They reduced their use of a poison that brings fish to the surface. Most critically, they closed some waters to fishing altogether.
Meksen Darius, the head of one of the clans using these measures, said people were open to the idea because they hoped it would improve their livelihoods.
“The volume, the kinds of species of fish and other marine life, they’ve multiplied,” Mr. Darius, a retired lawyer, said.
Recent research from around the world shows that marine protected areas increase fish stocks, ultimately allowing fishing communities to catch more fish on the edges of the reserves.
To Iliana Monterroso, an environmental scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research in Lima, Peru, what matters is that people who live in areas of high biodiversity have a right to manage those areas. She pointed to the example of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, a territory of two million hectares in Guatemala, where local communities have managed the forest for 30 years.
Under temporary contracts with the national government, they began harvesting limited quantities of timber and allspice, selling ornamental palms and running tourism agencies. They had an investment to protect. “The forest became the source of livelihood,” Dr. Monterroso said. “They were able to gain tangible benefits.”
Jaguars, spider monkeys and 535 species of butterflies thrive there. So does the white-lipped peccary, a shy pig that tends to disappear quickly when there’s hunting pressure. Community-managed forests have fewer forest fires, and there is almost zero rate of deforestation, according to researchers.
Erwin Maas is among the hundreds of Guatemalans who live there, too. He and his neighbors run a community-owned business in the village of Uaxactún. Mahogany is plentiful, but they can take only so much. Often, it’s one or two trees per hectare per year, Mr. Maas said. Seed-producing trees are left alone.
“Our goal is to sustain ourselves with a small amount and always take care of the forest,” he said.