In 2015, ALERT has reported on scores of environmental threats, emerging developments, and key research findings. From our perspective, here are three of the most important conservation trends over the past year:
1. EXPLODING ROADS & INFRASTRUCTURE
Perhaps the scariest direct threat to nature globally is the unprecedented proliferation of legal and illegal roads, dams, power lines, gas lines, and other infrastructure. Such projects are penetrating into many of the world's last surviving wild areas, often opening a Pandora's Box of environmental problems.
ALERT has tracked many of these trends. We've lobbied the leaders of the G20 nations to scale back their stunningly aggressive plans to invest some $60-70 trillion in new infrastructure over the next 15 years -- a scheme that would more than double the value of all infrastructure globally.
We've highlighted the growing role of new Chinese and Brazilian development banks in promoting infrastructure internationally, sometimes fast-tracking projects with minimal environmental and social safeguards.
Via high-profile editorials in the New York Times and New Scientist, we've underscored the growing threats to unbridled road expansion across the planet.
We've documented many of the environmentally most alarming road and infrastructure projects, across Southeast Asia, in Indonesian New Guinea, in Sumatra, in India, in Cambodia, in the Amazon, in West Africa, and across sub-Saharan Africa.
We've argued that roads and new infrastructure, while vital for human welfare, can have devastating consequences for nature and wildlife -- especially if poorly planned.
Such projects, for instance, are an increasingly insidious threat to many migratory species and are a key factor in the collapse of some of the world's greatest animal migrations. Much of the forest loss, fragmentation, poaching, illegal mining, and other destructive activities occurring globally can be linked directly to road and infrastructure expansion.
More optimistically, we've noted important strides being made to map all the legal and illegal roads across the tropics, via the European Union's RoadLess Forest Initiative. This new program will provide vital information that may improve efforts to proactively plan and manage infrastructure projects.
2. DROUGHTS & MEGA-FIRES
Much of the world has been reeling from the impacts of an El Niño drought of great ferocity -- so intense that it's been likened to a fire-breathing 'Godzilla'.
Nowhere has the drought had more devastating impacts than in Southeast Asia, where it's worsened thousands of human-lit wildfires that have razed vast areas of forest and peatland.
This fire crisis has resulted in months of dense, noxious haze that has sickened hundreds of thousands of people. Alarmingly, the growing pollution of air and water is now recognized as the number one killer of people in developing nations.
In one of our most widely-read stories of the year, ALERT argued that poor government policies -- particularly in Indonesia, an epicenter of the fires -- has been substantially responsible for the fire crisis.
From a scientific perspective, ALERT highlighted one of the more novel attempts to study the impacts of droughts on rainforests -- via a large-scale experiment in tropical Australia.
3. NO-DEFORESTATION AGREEMENTS
Lastly, it's been both a year of both good and bad news for deforestation.
On the one hand, Amazon deforestation, especially in Brazil, has fallen markedly. Rates of forest loss have also declined in some other tropical regions.
However, deforestation is on the rise in Africa and remains terrifyingly rapid in Indonesia.
Consumer pressures have played an important positive role in reducing deforestation, especially by some major corporations. For example, soy producers in Brazil and key oil palm and woodpulp producers in Southeast Asia, as well as corporations that use and sell those products, have made remarkable pledges to halt forest destruction.
However, there is no time for complacency. In one of the most alarming developments in 2015, Indonesia recently announced plans to fight the no-deforestation agreements, which it sees as a threat to its aggressive plans to clear millions of hectares of additional native forest.
THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
ALERT's efforts to inform the public and influence key conservation practices continue to grow. ALERT now reaches an average global readership of around 50,000 people each week.
We greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word about key threats to our imperiled planet. ALERT receives no outside funding at all -- it is a 100 percent voluntary effort by leading scientists to inform and to harness the efforts of those who, like us, care deeply about the future of our natural world.