Wilderness forms and their implications for global environmental policy and conservation

Katharina Victoria Pérez-Hämmerle, Katie Moon, Rubén Venegas-Li, Sean Maxwell, Jeremy S. Simmonds, Oscar Venter, Stephen T. Garnett, Hugh P. Possingham, James E.M. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With the intention of securing industry-free land and seascapes, protecting wilderness entered international policy as a formal target for the first time in the zero draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Given this increased prominence in international policy, it is timely to consider the extent to which the construct of wilderness supports global conservation objectives. We evaluated the construct by overlaying recently updated cumulative human pressure maps that offer a global-scale delineation of industry-free land as wilderness with maps of carbon stock, species richness, and ground travel time from urban centers. Wilderness areas took variable forms in relation to carbon stock, species richness, and proximity to urban centers, where 10% of wilderness areas represented high carbon and species richness, 20% low carbon and species richness, and 3% high levels of remoteness (>48 h), carbon, and species richness. Approximately 35% of all remaining wilderness in 2013 was accessible in <24 h of travel time from urban centers. Although the construct of wilderness can be used to secure benefits in specific contexts, its application in conservation must account for contextual and social implications. The diverse characterization of wilderness under a global environmental conservation lens shows that a nuanced framing and application of the construct is needed to improve understanding, communication, and retention of its variable forms as industry-free places.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13875
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
Early online date28 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


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