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Update to biodiversity treaty proposes protecting at least 30% of Earth

  • Global policymakers have proposed extending protections to at least 30% of terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems around the world.
  • The coming decade of biodiversity protection looks to borrow from the Paris climate agreement by setting targets for protecting intact ecosystems, curbing the spread of invasive species, and halving pollution from organic and plastic waste.
  • For biodiversity hotspots, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls for safeguarding 60% of these areas by bringing them under the protected area framework or other management mechanisms.
  • Some groups have questioned whether offering protection to 30% of areas and strict protection to only 10% will be enough to curb the alarming loss of biodiversity being witnessed globally.

A proposed update to the global treaty governing plant and animal life on Earth calls for nearly a third of the planet to be designated as protected by 2030. That proposal will go before the summit of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in China this October, where governments will hash out a framework for biodiversity protection over the coming decade and determine the fates of myriad endangered species.

“This is an incredibly important year to address the crisis facing nature and climate. They are two sides of the same coin, and we must address both crises aggressively, across all sectors, and with a sense of purpose,” H.W. Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Costa Rica’s minister for energy and the environment, said in a statement.

The planet is already in the throes of a “sixth mass extinction,” some scientists argue, referring to a widespread dying-off of species driven by human activity. Almost a million species are at risk of extinction, according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. This only accounts for threats to known species; many more species remain unknown to humans, yet their survival also hangs in the balance as the planet’s human population is expected to swell to 10 billion by 2050, from 7.5 billion today, placing unrelenting and unprecedented pressure on natural resources.

The “zero draft” of the CBD announced on Jan. 13, the first iteration of proposals, suggests that quantified targets will be an important element of the new deal. Just as the 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) goal under the Paris Agreement has galvanized efforts to tackle climate change, the CBD aims to have clear targets under the new framework that countries and other stakeholders can rally around.

But the deal does more than propose protection for 30% of the planet; it also emphasizes the preservation of intact areas. For biodiversity hotspots, the draft calls for safeguarding 60% of these areas by bringing them under the protected area framework or other management mechanisms. Tackling invasive species is also a priority, specifically reducing the rate of introductions of non-endemic species by half, and curbing their impacts in half of the priority areas. For saving biodiversity, the need for stricter control of the harvest of wild species is also highlighted. There is also a proposal to halve pollution from organic sources and plastic waste.

Climate mitigation and adaptation and promoting nature-based solutions to deal with the climate crisis are a central theme in the proposals.

While commending the inclusion of these targets, the Campaign for Nature, a partnership of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, the National Geographic Society, and more than 100 other conservation organizations around the world, noted that the draft calls for strict protection only in 10% of marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. “To only ‘strictly protect’ 10 percent of the planet’s lands and seas raises flags as to what protection means for the remaining 20 percent — and whether or not those protections are sufficient to safeguard lands, waters, and wildlife,” the coalition said in a release.

The group also said the draft decisions overlook issues like management effectiveness and equity in conservation efforts. Organizations representing indigenous peoples, including the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, have specifically called on the formulators to take their concerns into account as they are the guardians of some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world.

Almost 200 national governments are signatories to the CBD, which came into force in 1993. The pact provides overall guiding principles and helps shape national strategies for halting biodiversity loss and protecting ecosystems. In the past two years, there have been hectic negotiations between countries on what would constitute the post-2020 agenda, and the proposal is the first concrete document to come out of these consultations.

The decade from 2011 to 2020 was the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. The post-2020 strategy, while important in itself, will also lay the groundwork for the 2050 vision of the U.N.: “Living in harmony with nature.”

Banner Image: Orbicular Batfish (Platax orbicularis), Komodo National Park, Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler

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