About the Atlas

What is the Atlas for the End of the World?

The Atlas for the End of the World is a collection of maps and infographics covering two important subjects: the first is the amount of protected area in the world's biodiversity hotspots and how these regions are tracking in regard to meeting 2020 United Nations (Aichi) protected area targets; the second is an assessment of which cities in these hotspots are growing on collision courses with remnant habitat and endangered species.

Who are the Atlas authors?

The Atlas for the End of the World project was conceived and directed by Richard Weller who is the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). The Atlas was researched and created in collaboration with Claire Hoch and Chieh Huang, both recent graduates from the Department of Landscape Architecture at UPenn now practicing landscape architecture in Australia and the United States.

What is a biodiversity hotspot?

Biodiversity hotspots are regions of the world recognized by the global scientific and conservation community as containing an exceptional and irreplaceable diversity of life that is threatened with extinction. Taken together, the hotspots are the sum total of the world's genetic inheritance. The cultural equivalent to destroying these landscapes is akin to bulldozing the world's libraries and burning all the books. The way to save these places is to formally place them under protection.

What are the 2020 UN targets for protected areas?

The overarching framework for the project of protecting and reconstructing a biodiverse global landscape is provided by the United Nations (UN) Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020. The key mechanisms of this plan are brokered and administered through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one of the three 'Rio Conventions' emerging from the UN Conference on Environment and Development (the 'Earth Summit') held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The convention sets out 20 'Aichi Biodiversity Targets', agreed by the 196 countries signatory to the CBD. The Atlas specifically addresses Target 11, which states that by 2020, 17% of the world's terrestrial area will be protected.

What is a protected area?

Protected areas are areas of land where conservation and preservation values are prioritized over other possible land uses such as mining, logging, or clearance for agriculture and urbanization. Most protected areas are listed and classified according to seven degrees of conservation management by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which defines a protected area as "[a] clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values."

The mapping and associated calculations in this Atlas are based on three types of Protected area: IUCN: categories I-IV; categories V-VI; and NA. These categories range from strictly protected nature reserves, wildlands and parks (I-IV) to areas of more lenient management with the potential for development and the sustainable use of natural resources (V-VI). Representing roughly 35% of the number of global protected areas tabulated, the NA category does not denote lax management policy, simply areas that for one reason or another have not adapted the IUCN management classification system.

How much of the world is protected?

At the time of writing (2016) about 15.4% of the world's terrestrial area and 3.4% of the oceans were formally protected. This means that to reach the CBD target of securing 17% terrestrial protected area by 2020, an additional 1.6% of global terrestrial area needs to be secured under the IUCN's standards. This represents 2,327,800 km2, the equivalent of nearly 700,000 Central Parks.

What are the main findings of the Atlas research?

Our research and mapping revealed that only 14 of the hotspots had achieved the UN CBD target of 17% protected areas in 2016. In order to get a clearer picture of what this means we drilled down further to separate each hotspot into its constituent ecoregions. Of the 391 different ecoregions that make up the 35 hotspots, only 170 had 17% or more protected area. We also examined the urban pressures on each hotspot and found that, of the 422 main cities in the world's hotspots, 383 are forecast to sprawl directly into remnant habitat containing threatened species. Less precisely quantifiable, but no less alarming, is that many of these cities do not appear to have urban planning strategies to avoid this calamity. Similarly, many of the nations presiding over the hotspots don't appear to have national land use plans that seriously incorporate the preservation of biodiversity.

(NB The recently added 36th hotspot, The North American Coastal Plain is yet to be assessed)

Which hotspots are doing the best in regard to meeting protected area targets and which are doing the worst?

The three best are New Zealand, the Tropical Andes (a part of Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia), and the Cape Floristic Province in South Africa. The worst are Madagascar, the Caucasus (parts of Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran), and the Atlantic Forest which runs along the coast of Brazil and down into Paraguay and Argentina.

Why is it an Atlas for the End of the World?

Because, for much of the world's biodiversity it is in fact the end of the world. Also, since the first modern atlas was composed in 1570, the dominant paradigm has been that nature is a resource to be exploited without consequence. That world is over.

Who is the Atlas for?

Primarily, it's for the 142 nations who preside over the world's hotspots and who have agreed to meet certain UN targets for protected areas by 2020. It's also for the communities who live in these regions and have a vested interest in land use policy and their long–term environmental well–being. Additionally, it might help the global conservation and development community prioritize their efforts around the world and also encourage landscape architects and planners to get out there and make a difference. But like any Atlas it is really just for the adventurous, the imaginative, and the inquisitive. We hope that young people around the world will check it out; after all, this is the world we are bequeathing to them.

What do you hope to achieve with this Atlas?

The Atlas lays down the base maps upon which land use decisions and urban planning strategies that better integrate development and biodiversity can be made. If this planning was to be conducted by research teams of planners, scientists, and local communities it would help ensure that local development imperatives and global conservation values could better coexist. In short, it would help create a better world.

What's this got to do with landscape architecture?

We, the authors of this research are landscape architects and as a discipline and profession landscape architecture has a mandate to design and plan the landscape from local to regional scales. Over the last 50 years our profession has done a good job of creating good public space in many of the world's richest cities, but it hasn't engaged as much as it should in the broader, conservation landscape. With equal regard for ecological and cultural values, landscape architects have an enormously constructive and beneficial role to play in these territories.

Can I use or reproduce the material on this website?

This work is released under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. You may reproduce or use the maps, images, and information on this website ("the Work") in a non-commercial context subject to the conditions of the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. All uses of the Work must be accompanied by proper attribution of authors and contain the Atlas for the End of the World website URL. If you are reproducing material on a website you must provide a hyperlink to http://atlas-for-the-end-of-the-world.com. You may not make or publish derivatives of the Work (including remixing, transforming, adapting, changing, or building upon the Work) in any context, whether commercial or non-commercial. For any uses of the Work that fall outside these license restrictions, please seek permission by emailing Richard Weller at rjweller[at]design.upenn.edu.

How do I cite the material on this website?

Maps and Images — Unless a different source is noted directly under the image, all maps and images from this website should be accompanied by the following credit line:

© 2017 Richard J. Weller, Claire Hoch, and Chieh Huang, Atlas for the End of the World, http://atlas-for-the-end-of-the-world.com.

Essays and Text — All text on this site is authored by Richard Weller. Below is a sample citation for essays and text:

Richard J. Weller, "Précis" in Richard J. Weller, Claire Hoch, and Chieh Huang, Atlas for the End of the World (2017), http://atlas-for-the-end-of-the-world.com.