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Global inequities and political borders challenge nature conservation under climate change

Titley, Mark A.; Butchart, Stuart H.M.; Jones, Victoria R.; Whittingham, Mark J.; Willis, Stephen G.

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Mark A. Titley

Stuart H.M. Butchart

Victoria R. Jones

Mark J. Whittingham


Underlying sociopolitical factors have emerged as important determinants of wildlife population trends and the effectiveness of conservation action. Despite mounting research into the impacts of climate change on nature, there has been little consideration of the human context in which these impacts occur, particularly at the global scale. We investigate this in two ways. First, by modeling the climatic niches of terrestrial mammals and birds globally, we show that projected species loss under climate change is greatest in countries with weaker governance and lower Gross Domestic Product, with loss of mammal species projected to be greater in countries with lower CO2 emissions. Therefore, climate change impacts on species may be disproportionately significant in countries with lower capacity for effective conservation and lower greenhouse gas emissions, raising important questions of international justice. Second, we consider the redistribution of species in the context of political boundaries since the global importance of transboundary conservation under climate change is poorly understood. Under a high-emissions scenario, we find that 35% of mammals and 29% of birds are projected to have over half of their 2070 climatic niche in countries in which they are not currently found. We map these transboundary range shifts globally, identifying borders across which international coordination might most benefit conservation and where physical border barriers, such as walls and fences, may be an overlooked obstacle to climate adaptation. Our work highlights the importance of sociopolitical context and the utility of a supranational perspective for 21st century nature conservation.


Titley, M. A., Butchart, S. H., Jones, V. R., Whittingham, M. J., & Willis, S. G. (2021). Global inequities and political borders challenge nature conservation under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(7), Article e2011204118.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 17, 2020
Online Publication Date Feb 8, 2021
Publication Date Feb 16, 2021
Deposit Date Feb 10, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 10, 2021
Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Print ISSN 0027-8424
Electronic ISSN 1091-6490
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 118
Issue 7
Article Number e2011204118
Keywords climate change, biodiversity, transboundary, conservation, political borders


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