A Swiss philanthropist has donated $1 billion to save the Earth’s wild lands and waters from destruction. Here’s where the money is going.

  • Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss philanthropist, has pledged $1 billion to land and ocean conservation.
  • The Wyss Foundation wants to help preserve 30% of the planet’s wild lands and oceans by 2030.
  • An increase in conservation can help prevent animal and plant species from going extinct, and it can expand the availability of clean air and drinking water.
  • Greg Zimmerman, the communications director at the Wyss Campaign for Nature, said the foundation has already donated more than $66 million.

In October 2018, Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss announced a $1 billion donation to conserve the planet’s oceans and lands.

Wyss, a billionaire and conservationist, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that his eponymous foundation will donate the money over the next 10 years to conservation projects led by indigenous people, local leaders, and conservation groups. He wants to help conserve 30% of the planet by 2030, adding that lands and waters are best protected when they are turned into public national parks, marine reserves, and wildlife refuges.

Such a large increase in conservation would widen the availability of clean air and drinking water, and prevent the extinction of many species. Researchers at Brown University have found that animal and plant species are going extinct 1,000 times faster than they did prior to human activity.

Read more: So many animals will go extinct in the next 50 years that it will take Earth at least 3 million years to recover, a study has found

Wyss’s donation will also be used to raise awareness about the importance of conservation and to fund scientific research on how to reach the 30% goal.

Greg Zimmerman, the communications director at the Wyss Campaign for Nature, told Business Insider that the foundation supports projects that are locally-driven instead of dictating how to protect land.

“What we found over the years is that if it’s not being driven by folks who live in these communities, if there’s not local buy-in, then you’re going to have a political problem, you’re going to have a problem of these places [not] being protected permanently,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said the Wyss Foundation’s eventual aim is to help conserve half of the planet. Reaching 30% is still hugely ambitious, but Wyss wrote he believes it’s an achievable goal.

“It’s a feasible and ambitious first step,” Zimmerman said. “I think if you said, let’s protect half the Earth by 2030, you would be left out of the room.”

Turtles crawl to the ocean after being released, as part of conservation efforts, on the beach of Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, November 4, 2015.

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Turtles crawl to the ocean after being released, as part of conservation efforts, on the beach of Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, November 4, 2015.
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Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters

By the end of 2018, the Wyss Foundation had donated more than $66 million to at least nine local organizations. Zimmerman highlighted projects in Canada and Argentina as just three examples of promising partnerships.

The Wyss Foundation is donating $750,000 to help the Dehcho First Nations in Canada to create a management program for the Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area in the Northwest Territories. Part of the 3.5 million acre area includes a wetland ecosystem that serves as a habitat for moose, bison, wolverine, caribou, and waterfowl. According to the Wyss Foundation, the donation will help the Dehcho First Nations benefit economically from managing the area.

Two projects in Argentina are also receiving support from the Swiss billionaire. Aves Argentinas, the country’s oldest conservation organization, will receive up to $5.8 million for the conservation of about 65,000 acres of wetlands. This donation will help create a 1.5 million acre national park, helping to protect the endangered maned wolf and three species of flamingos.

Wyss’s foundation is also giving up to $22 million to Fundación Flora y Fauna, which will establish a 178,000 acre national park in Argentina’s Tucumán Province. The park will protect a mountain chain containing glaciers that provide clean water to the region’s blueberry and lemon industries. The most southerly Inca settlement is located where the park is set to form.

This is not the Swiss billionaire’s first dive into conservation projects – he has previously donated more than $450 million to help protect wild species in North America, South America, Africa, and Europe. Wyss has also signed the Giving Pledge, which is a commitment among billionaires to donate at least 50% of their wealth to charitable causes.

The Wyss Foundation is also focused on raising awareness ahead of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, Zimmerman said. The foundation hopes to encourage governments to adopt more ambitious conservation pledges and help protect more of their lands and oceans.