UN: We Must Protect 30% of the Planet to Slow Climate Change

Ciucaș Peak in Romania
Ciucaș Peak, Romania. Photo: David Marcu.

The United Nations has embarked on an ambitious mission to increase the proportion of land and ocean protected from human development and degradation to at least 30% of the planet’s surface by 2030, seeing it as a key way to slow down or reverse climate change, which is now proceeding at an accelerated pace.

In its report, the working group of the Convention on Biological Diversity stated:

“The global population is currently 7.6. billion, and, by 2030, it is expected to reach 8.6 billion and, by 2050, 9.8 billion. By 2030, there are expected to be 43 cities with more than 10 million inhabitants and, by 2050, 68 per cent of the human population will live in urban areas.”

To deal with this crisis, they recommend a post-2020 global diversity framework that will “allow for the recovery of natural ecosystems in the following 20 years, with net improvements by 2050 to achieve the Convention’s vision of ‘living in harmony with nature by 2050’.”

The benefits of this approach are not just limited to protecting valuable natural ecosystems. It’s expected that this will also “enhance the sustainable use of wild species providing, by 2030, benefits, including enhanced nutrition, food security, and livelihoods… especially for the most vulnerable.” Even for the majority of the population living in urban areas, the increase in accessible greenspace will improve their quality of life.

 Bears Ears National Monument
In 2019, unbeknownst to many Americans, the Trump Administration removed a staggering 85% of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah from protection. Photo: U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Currently, only 15% of land surface and 8% of the oceans are protected, meaning there’s a long way to go before these goals are reached. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity has been signed by 190 countries, but it has yet to be ratified by one of the most influential governments: the United States. And recent decisions by President Trump have reversed large-scale protections introduced by his predecessor, Barack Obama. In 2019, Trump reduced the size of Bear Ears National Monument by 83%, from 1.35 million acres to 228,000 acres.

In Canada, the government continues to increase the percentage of protected land every year; while this area currently comprises just 11.8% of its total land mass, there’s an ongoing program to add to it. For instance, already in January of 2020 the Canadian federal government has partnered with the Ktunaxa Nation in the East Kootenay to create a conservation zone in a remote mountainous region of British Columbia, and in 2019 banned deep-sea mining and gas drilling in marine protected areas. The partnership with the local Indigenous People is not just for convenience. Studies show that Indigenous People are better at protecting wilderness areas than governments, even when the land is designated as a protected area.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Anon.

The goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 is indeed ambitious, but faced with the threat of a global climate crisis, it’s a worthy goal for all governments to aim to meet, from towns and cities around the world to all member countries in the United Nations.

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