Habitat destruction and fragmentation remain the primary threats to biodiversity and as little as 9% of Earth’s terrestrial habitats may at present be adequately connected. A new initiative seeks to conserve, restore and manage ecologically connected networks.

Sharm El-Sheikh, 18 November: WWF, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group today launched a new initiative to conserve nature’s connections – Wildlife Connect.

The initiative aims to secure ecological connectivity  – defined by the Convention on Migratory Species as the “unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth”.  From great migrations of wildlife across landscapes and continents to river flows from mountain to sea, nature’s circulatory system of  connections is essential for a healthy planet.  Yet they are rapidly disappearing, destabilizing ecosystems and the essential benefits they provide for us all.

The Wildlife Connect initiative was launched at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as connecting lands, inland waters and seas is critical to avert some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Focusing on ecological corridors and networks as nature-based solutions to climate change contributes greatly to climate mitigation and adaptation measures, whilst providing enormous benefit to nature.

Speaking during the launch event, Amy Fraenkel, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species, said, “Ecological Connectivity is not only vital for migratory species, it also plays a key role in climate change adaptation and ensures the resilience of species and entire ecosystems.”

Governments at the event announced their own efforts to tackle this challenge, such as Canada’s new CAN$60 million programme on ecological corridors, Bhutan’s creation of a protected network of corridors across the whole country, and the French government’s new international coalition on biological corridors in Africa. .  

Experts at the event revealed that as little as 9% of Earth’s terrestrial habitats may at present be adequately connected. That habitat destruction and fragmentation remain the primary threats to biodiversity. And that if unprecedented action is not taken, loss of ecological connectivity will lead to disruption of ecological processes, our ability to adapt to climate change, and may lead to another pandemic. 

“The challenge of our time will be building ecologically connected networks of protected and conserved areas that allow wildlife to move to complete their life cycles and adapt to climate change,” said Margaret Kinnaird, Leader Wildlife Practice, WWF International. “And it’s not just about wildlife – ecological connectivity contributes to carbon sequestration by maintaining ecosystem services such as pollination, seed and nutrient dispersal and the clean water on which we all depend. The UNFCCC has a hugely important role to play in ensuring we protect, maintain and restore ecological connectivity as one of many solutions to mitigating and adapting to climate change.”

“Fragmentation is one of the biggest threats to the planet and connectivity conservation links people, places, and species to better harmonize work to save the atmosphere and biosphere”  said Gary Tabor, President and Founder, Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), and Chair, IUCN WCPA Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group (CCSG). “Connectivity conservation is an available and practical tool that protects biodiversity and the climate”

“We know what we need to do to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, and deliver a nature positive future. We must protect the natural spaces left on the planet, and restore as much as we can of what we have destroyed. But we also need to ensure the necessary connectivity for wildlife and ecosystems to adapt, particularly in response to climate change impacts which are making habitats unsuitable or increasing competition for resources” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International. “It is vital for species to be able to move pole-wards, to higher altitudes, or simply across suitable habitats. Preserving and restoring connectivity between landscapes will be crucial to maintain both ecosystem and biodiversity health, with all the climate, economic and human wellbeing benefits this brings. ” 

Whilst the ambition of the initiative is global, Wildlife Connect will coalesce around four demonstration landscapes, one each in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The landscapes will be laboratories of innovation, where partners will come together to engage, co-create and pilot novel solutions to the most intractable problems that are severing connectivity. The initiative will contribute to bending the curve of biodiversity loss, as well as securing the ecosystem services that we all depend on.

With the launch of the initiative, WWF, CLLC and IUCN WCPA-CCSG are urging world leaders to at least double public finance for adaptation and consider focussing adaptation in ecological corridors and networks. By taking account of risks and benefits for ecological connectivity, decisions on climate finance and climate action can enhance mitigation and adaptation outcomes through strengthened ecosystem resilience, whilst maximizing biodiversity co-benefits.