A growing and more affluent human population is expected to promote a rapid pace of development to meet the growing demands for food, water, housing, energy, minerals, and other resources. This pending development is expected to fuel economic growth, but also to accelerate habitat modification, simultaneously putting at risk the biodiversity and ecosystem services upon which humans depend. Research has examined the consequences of future land conversion from prominent sectors like agriculture and urbanization, but less is known about the relative and cumulative impacts across different development threats such as energy and mining sectors that have more than $20 trillion in investment projected over the next two decades. Here, for the first time, we aggregate global spatial patterns of expected urban and agricultural expansion, conventional and unconventional oil and gas, coal, solar, wind, biofuels and mining development. We then examine the patterns of potential development expansion on ecoregional and biome scales in relation to current habitat modification.
Cumulatively, these development sectors place at risk 20% of the remaining global natural lands (19.68 million km2) and 50% of natural lands in half of the world’s biomes. In addition, they could potentially double and triple the extent of land modification in South America and Africa, respectively. Regionally, substantial shifts in land modification could occur in Southern and Western South America, Central and Eastern Africa, and the Central Rocky Mountains of North America. While development risk is highly dispersed globally, potential impacts are disproportionally borne by three biomes that contain 66% of delineated at-risk natural areas: Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands; Deserts and Xeric Shrublands; and Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests. Potential habitat modification is likely to arise not form a single sector but from a multitude of sectors cumulatively acting in conjunction. With only 5% of the Earth’s at-risk natural lands under strict legal protection, proactively mitigating multi-sector development risk is critical for curtailing the further substantial loss of nature.