Nature is in crisis, warns the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and as such, it calls on world leaders meeting for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) virtual summit (May-June), to pass the 30×30 plan, i.e. to turn 30% of the Earth into protected areas.
Led by Tanzania’s Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, who serves as the Executive Secretary for the UN Biodiversity Convention, the CBD is of the view that the more land is set aside, the more the planet can revive itself.
Ongoing degradation of oceans, lands, and freshwater systems is destroying the planet’s ability to support life. It is so far reported that already up to a million species worldwide face extinction.
To stop this almost inevitable destruction, the NRDC is for world leaders to adopt and implement the call to protect at least 30 percent of the global ocean and 30 percent of land areas and inland waters by 2030.
In January this year, a high-level biodiversity summit hosted by France ruled on the 30×30 proposal. It was a general consensus that threats to biodiversity are worsening the negative effects of climate change as humans encroach on wildlife areas.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, at the moment, only about 15 percent of the world’s land and 7 percent of the oceans are protected. Also worth noting is the fact that many of these areas are not all well managed and they do not represent the totality of diversity of global ecosystems.
So in April of this year, at the Joe Biden Earth Day Summit, world leaders made pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions. However, it was also pointed out that the world cannot solve the climate crisis without tackling the biodiversity crisis and the proposal is to set aside more protected lands and water bodies.
With that stand, it only makes sense that the world leaders at the virtual CBD summit will pass the proposal to set aside 30 percent of land and water as protected areas by 2030.
Arguments against 30×30
Taken on face value suggestions that setting aside more ‘protected’ or conservation areas serves to mitigate the effects of climate change sounds very plausible. The recommendations further declare that leaving large tracts of land and water untouched will balance the effects of over–using other land and water areas.
However, the more conservation lands are created the more people are displaced and in effect the more people destroy other lands and water masses seeking their daily provisions. So advocates are arguing against setting aside more ‘protected areas.’
The reason is simple: most of these areas proposed to be (and those that already are), protected areas, have settlements in them already. Therefore, activists argue that setting aside more protected areas will only worsen an already bad situation. Even though the goal is noble, activists say when it comes to on ground application, the plan does not work.
“In many parts of the world, a protected area is where the local people who have called the land home for generations are no longer allowed to live on or use their natural environment to feed their families, gather medicinal plants or visit their sacred sites,” argues the activist group Survival International.
The group’s Executive Director Inger Andersen notes that, ‘…through centuries of direct interaction with nature, they (indigenous people) have held on to a belief in the oneness of life. They acknowledge that humanity is part of nature, not apart from it or above it.’
“Creating protected areas has rarely been done with the consent of indigenous communities or respect for their human rights. There is no sign that it will be any different in the future. More protected areas are likely to result in more militarization and human rights abuses,” he warns.
According to Andersen, protected areas actually have the opposite of their desired effect; they cause more destruction of land and wildlife. Removing people from their lands in the name of conservation does not work, he argues; instead, it only increases human suffering and in turn accelerates the destruction of the very areas they were meant to protect.
The argument here is that it is not the indigenous people who are responsible for climate change, it is big business. Climate change is the result of global warming which is brought about due to emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The severest of these emissions are released from large factories and vehicles that the modern man uses.
So who will suffer should the world move to set aside 30 percent of its land as protected areas? It is not Uncle Sam but the poverty–stricken indigenous people living in the targeted ‘protective areas.’
“Kicking them off their land to create ‘protected areas’ will not help the climate: Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the natural world and an essential part of human diversity that is key to protecting biodiversity,” Andersen insists. He views the setting aside of the areas as land grabbing from the locals.
“It will be the biggest land grab in world history and it will reduce hundreds of millions of people to landless poverty,” he said referring to the intended protection of 30 percent of the global land.
In a letter to the CBD Secretariat, Minority Rights, an NGO advocating for the rights of indigenous people and other vulnerable groups, warns that as many as 300 million people could be affected by the proposed setting aside of 30 percent of the earth as protected areas.
Describing it as ‘fortress conservation’ the activist points out that in much of the Global South, the system has failed to prevent the rapid decline in biodiversity. In fact, they warn that when you combine the forced removal of people from their homelands and the poverty that they are left to survive in, it only drives them to go against conservation efforts altogether.
There is little hope for the activists’ call against the 30×30 plan. It is expected that world leaders will accentuate the proposal and move towards protecting 30 percent of the globe against any human activity. It remains to be seen whether this time around the removal of people in the targeted areas will be done humanely and when people refuse to leave their homelands, how will the authorities likely respond?