2021 in review: New maps, tech could help fight climate breakdown and biodiversity loss

© Cristina Mittermeier

Nature saw ups and downs in 2021, and Conservation News was there for it all. This month, we are revisiting some of the most significant stories of the past year. 

From analyzing climate impacts to developing new conservation technology, scientists at Conservation International stayed busy this year as they worked to help stop climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. Here are a few breakthroughs from 2021. 

More than two-thirds of the population of the tropics — about 2.7 billion people — directly depend on nature for at least one of their basic needs, according to Conservation International research. We spoke to the study’s lead author, Conservation International scientist Giacomo Fedele, about how knowing where nature-dependent people live can help governments implement stronger conservation efforts. At its core, the study spotlights a climate justice issue: Nature-dependent communities often contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet they feel the most severe impacts of the climate crisis — from rising sea levels to scorching heat waves.  

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Within Liberia’s borders lies one of the last strongholds of intact forests in West Africa. But as the country’s economy recovers from years of civil war, experts fear that these forests — and other ecosystems across Liberia — could become victims of unsustainable oil palm development, urbanization and logging. Now, the Liberian government is teaming up with NASA and Conservation International to protect its most valuable natural resources by measuring the benefits they provide to people. 

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One in 10 of the world’s species live in the Amazon. And for the first time, scientists have quantified the impact that fires have had on animals and plants in the rainforest over the past two decades. We spoke to Conservation International scientist Patrick Roehrdanz, a co-author on the study, about the toll fires have taken — and how to prevent widespread extinctions. 

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Nearly 1 million species face extinction — and humanity is largely to blame. But a new tool developed by Conservation International scientists can precisely and accurately show, at a 5-kilometer (3-mile) scale anywhere on Earth’s surface, species are at the greatest risk of extinction — and help guide conservation actions to protect them. Determining how humanity harms wildlife is the first step toward implementing changes to protect it. 

Read more here.


Kiley Price is the staff writer and news editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: A ring-tailed lemur, Madagascar (© Cristina Mittermeier)