(CNN)Almost half of the Earth's land surface must be protected to stop the biodiversity crisis, according to a new report published Friday in the journal Science.
The research found some 64 million square kilometers (24.7 million square miles) -- 44% of the Earth's land -- needs "conservation attention" to prevent major biodiversity losses.
"We must act fast, our models show that over 1.3 million square kilometers of this important land -- an area larger than South Africa -- is likely to have its habitat cleared for human uses by 2030, which would be devastating for wildlife," lead author Dr James R. Allan from the University of Amsterdam said in a news release.
The study, which used advanced data modeling and algorithmic projections to map optimal areas for conserving species and ecosystems was described by the authors as "a conservation plan for the planet."
The authors said those areas didn't necessarily have to be designated as protected areas, but other strategies could be used to conserve ecosystems including policies to control land use.
The new research also found that 1.87 billion people, roughly a quarter of the Earth's population, live in areas requiring conservation attention, mostly in developing countries in Africa, Central America and Asia.
Climate scientists and environmental groups are urging governments and corporations to do more to protect the planet, amid warnings the world is on track to miss its targets of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Scientists who wrote the new research say their findings could have important implications for policymakers negotiating global biodiversity targets, after governments failed to meet the previous goals to conserve at least 17% of global land area by 2020.
A coalition of 70 countries are expected to pledge to to protect 30% of their lands and oceans by 2030, in a draft global treaty due to be finalized in the third quarter of this year.
New $500 million fund for conservation
The report's release coincided with a major UN environment conference in Stockholm, where UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to end a "suicidal war against nature."
He also warned that unless humanity acts now, "'we will not have a livable planet."
"We know what to do. And, increasingly, we have the tools to do it. But we still lack leadership and cooperation. So today, I appeal to leaders in all sectors: Lead us out of this mess," Guterres said.
To that end, Italy and Sweden announced their support for a new a new international fund that aims to invest at least $500 million in developing countries to aid in climate protection.
The Climate Investment Funds (CIF), one of the world's largest multilateral climate financing instruments, launched its "Nature, People, and Climate" (NPC) program at the Stockholm conference on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
The new program is expected to give indigenous people a bigger role in conserving local environment and tackling climate change.
"Nature-based solutions help reduce emissions, support communities adapting to a changing climate and protect biodiversity," Matilda Ernkrans, Sweden's international development minister, said in a statement.
Ramping up conservation and management efforts of natural parks, oceans and forests is pivotal to safeguarding biodiversity and maintaining balanced ecosystems which humans depend on and to limit the devastating effects of global warming.
But forests around the world are still being destroyed -- from expanding land for beef production in Brazil to setting illegal forest fires to grow palm oil in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia -- threatening wildlife and derailing climate goals as trees absorb about one-third of polluting emissions.
The new NPC program expects to invest in efforts to expand approaches like carbon storage, mangrove restoration and climate resilience in small island developing states, sub-Saharan Africa and forested countries around the globe, according to Reuters.