What does 2018 have in store for nature? Experts weigh in

A school of fish around a coral reef at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, pictured above. (© James Watt/NOAA/Flickr Creative Commons)

More than a month into 2018, nature has already been in the news: Hong Kong voted to ban the sale of ivory, the Trump administration opened former areas of national monuments to mining claims, and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt asked whether climate change  is “necessarily a bad thing.”

Looking ahead, here are some of the questions on the minds of experts at Conservation International.

‘Aulani Wilhelm: Are marine protected areas forever?

In 2017, the Trump Administration took the unprecedented step of reviewing U.S. national monuments and other marine sanctuaries to determine whether any deserve downsizing or a change in management. In a memo to the president, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended changes to two Pacific Ocean protected areas: the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. The recommendations of a separate review conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have not yet been released to the public.

In response, CI mobilized tens of thousands of voices from our community to support marine protected areas and their terrestrial cousins. The U.S. government’s potential backtracking of ocean areas, as they are doing on land, stands in stark contrast to ocean progress made elsewhere around the world. In just the last year, the Cook Islands, ColombiaChile and Mexico announced major new marine protected areas. These protections build upon a legacy that, ironically, began with bipartisan leadership of U.S. presidents. Will the White House forsake the leadership role the U.S. has played in ocean conservation globally by removing protections from sensitive areas, or will it reconsider its current course? The world is watching.

‘Aulani Wilhelm is head of Conservation International’s Center for Oceans.

Keith Roberts: What does the future hold for the safety of elephants?

At the close of 2017, China followed through on its landmark commitment to close its domestic ivory market, the world’s largest. On Jan. 31, lawmakers in Hong Kong also voted to ban the sale of ivory in the province. These moves followed a similar action taken by the United States in 2016 ( USA does not have a total ban but rather a near total ban which is same as UK), and joins other initiatives agreed to or under consideration in the European Union and United Kingdom. Meanwhile, 18 African nations, organized under the Elephant Protection Initiative — of which CI serves as co-secretariat alongside Stop Ivory — have agreed to close their domestic ivory markets and place their national stockpiles beyond economic use for at least 10 years. Central Africa lost 64 percent of its elephants from 2003 to 2013, according to a study.

The progress raises questions: How far is the world from a truly global ban on ivory sales, and will it make a difference in the poaching of elephants in Africa? Already, we have seen evidence that the elephant poaching pressure that peaked in 2011 and 2012 has slackened as the street price of ivory has fallen. Although several major legal markets remain open — as do black markets, including in the U.S. — global action seems to have made a difference. Still, elephants continue to face decline. Whether additional countries follow suit may decide whether this story changes for 2019.

Keith Roberts is executive director for wildlife trafficking at Conservation International.

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Shyla Raghav: Will nature get its due as a solution to climate change?

While 2017 had many downs for climate, we also saw remarkable resilience and leadership from unexpected sources. New international leaders such as France, China and India took up the mantle of climate action with new commitments. American states, cities and businesses pledged to meet their share of the U.S.’s Paris pledge. Economies pulled away from coal and replaced it with renewable wind and solar energy. The response was so encouraging that CI President Jennifer Morris called 2017 the best year yet for our climate.

And yet we still have a long way to go. A key milestone in 2018 will be the Global Climate Action Summit in September, hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown and other climate champions like Michael Bloomberg, where leaders across sectors will gather to discuss how to accelerate commitments to climate action and whether sub-national governments and businesses can demonstrate genuine progress toward meeting global goals. It stands to be one of the most impactful moments of this year in the wake of Trump’s announcement to leave the Paris Agreement, the administration’s proposed replacement of the Clean Power Plan, and decisions on renewable energy investment and fossil fuel development.

A key question underlying all of this: Will nature finally be recognized as the vast and untapped piece of our global climate solution? Will deforestation be addressed alongside decarbonization? The success of our climate action depends upon it.

Shyla Raghav is the climate change lead at Conservation International.

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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