Hansjörg Wyss’s eponymous foundation has invested more than $450 million over the past two decades to conserve land and marine environments.
Now the billionaire philanthropist, who made his fortune through medical devices, is upping his commitment to protecting the planet by pledging $1 billion over the next decade to accelerate conservation efforts, according to an op-ed he wrote in the New York Times.
Wyss aims to inspire a movement that conserves 30% of the world’s marine and land environments by 2030. And far from snapping up massive swaths of land only to put barricades around them, Wyss is adamant about making sure his investments go toward the public good.
“Wild lands and waters are best conserved not in private hands, locked behind gates, but as public national parks, wildlife refuges and marine reserves, forever open for everyone to experience and explore,” he wrote.
Wyss said that the investment will be spent on raising public awareness of the importance of wildlife, pushing for higher global conservation targets, and funding scientific studies.
Above all, the money will go toward boosting locally led conservation efforts, especially those spearheaded by Indigenous communities.
“Indigenous peoples, local leaders, and conservation groups around the world are already busy setting aside protected areas that reflect the conservation, economic, and cultural values of nearby communities,” Wyss wrote in the op-ed.
The first nine projects that the Wyss Campaign for Nature is supporting cover 10 million acres of land and 17,000 square kilometers of ocean across 13 countries. For example, the foundation is investing $22 million to establish a 178,000-acre national park in Argentina, and $3.5 million to return land to its wild roots in Romania.
While Wyss makes a case for optimism in his piece, he’s careful to describe the threats facing ecosystems.
His pledge comes not long after the United Nations released its latest report on climate change, which calls for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” to avoid climate catastrophe.
Wild animal populations have declined by 60% since 1970, more than 26,000 plants and animals are close to extinction, nearly two-thirds of the world’s wetlands and half of all rainforests have been destroyed, and the world’s oceans have absorbed 60% more heat than previously thought.
Taken together, the world needs around 5 million years to recover from the damage caused by human society.
These are daunting conditions that require the focus of more than a single billionaire to overcome.
Other wealthy conservationists have spent large sums on protecting the planet in recent years. For example, the Chinese entrepreneur He Qiaonyu committed $1.5 billion to conservation last year, and the financier and former politician Michael Bloomberg has invested hundreds of millions in the fight against climate change.
But Wyss is hoping that his pledge will spur countries to prioritize ecological rehabilitation.
Currently, 15% of the world’s landmass and 7% of the world’s oceans are protected. Getting to 30% is challenging, but it’s possible, Wyss believes.
“Every one of us — citizens, philanthropists, business and government leaders — should be troubled by the enormous gap between how little of our natural world is currently protected and how much should be protected,” he wrote. “It is a gap that we must urgently narrow, before our human footprint consumes the earth’s remaining wild places.”