An action plan for saving nature — now
This month, world leaders are convening for the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. While nations will sign a declaration marking the milestone, the reality is that this is no time to rest or to celebrate.
Interlinked challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and economic recovery will be in full focus during UNGA, and the 75th session will culminate with a special high-level Summit on Biodiversity on Sept. 30. There are many overlapping crises that the world is facing, from a global health crisis to record job losses to a growing recognition of long standing systemic racism and growing inequality.
At this pivotal moment in global history, it’s appropriate that UNGA will conclude with a head of state session on biodiversity. Ultimately, a healthy planet is the foundation for a just and prosperous world. Preserving nature is a prerequisite for maintaining public health, stabilizing and supporting local and national economies, preserving diverse cultures and ensuring access to clean air, drinking water and sustainable food supplies.
Unfortunately, our natural world is facing a crisis, too. Global species loss is estimated to be up to 1,000 times higher than the naturally occurring extinction rate. One million plant and animal species now face extinction within decades. Failing to address this alarming loss of nature will only exacerbate the other crises we face, increasing the gap between the haves and have nots, accelerating the devastating impacts of climate change, and creating the conditions for future pandemics.
The good news is that global leaders recognize that we must take urgent action to halt biodiversity loss. Nations around the world are calling for an ambitious deal for nature to be agreed to at next year’s conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity, a treaty to be signed by 196 parties. The goal of this treaty is for the world to be living in harmony with nature by 2050.
The question is what it means for a plan to protect nature to be “ambitious.” How can we really know if governments are committing to the right actions and that the plan will succeed in safeguarding our natural world and preserving the diversity of life on our planet? What commitments should world leaders be making now as they convene to discuss these issues at UNGA?
We would suggest that there are three major actions that must be taken for any deal to be ambitious. It is true that governments, businesses and citizens will need to do more than just this, but it is increasingly clear that no strategy to protect nature will succeed unless it makes significant progress on each of these fronts.
First, every country must agree to protecting at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that at least 30 percent of the planet must be conserved through protected areas, Indigenous led conservation or other conservation designation. Many experts agree that half of the planet must be kept in a natural state, and point to 30 percent as a credible and achievable interim goal. Several dozen countries have publicly championed this 30 percent global target, and it has already been proposed as a cornerstone of a global deal for nature for world leaders to agree to in 2021.
Second, the rights of Indigenous Peoples must be respected and promoted. The most comprehensive review of the global state of nature found that biodiversity was better managed on Indigenous lands than elsewhere. Additionally, the report found that much of the world’s remaining natural areas are in Indigenous territories. The clear conclusion is that Indigenous Peoples must be central partners in any global strategy to protect the natural world. In addition to being a moral imperative, fully recognizing rights of Indigenous Peoples is necessary for achieving global biodiversity goals. It will be important for countries to more clearly and specifically state how their plans and actions will promote and support Indigenous rights.
Third, there needs to be a significant increase in funding from all sources. A recent report found that there is a large gap between what is spent on biodiversity and the investments needed. As of 2019, the world spends between $124 and $143 billion per year on biodiversity conservation, and the necessary level of investment is between $722 and $967 billion per year. To close this gap, governments must lead and clearly state what they will do to increase their own contributions to nature funding, and what they will do in terms of enacting specific policies, incentives and disincentives to unlock private capital.
Over the course of UNGA and the UN Biodiversity Summit, we will have the chance to see which nations are leading the way towards a more just and prosperous world. We will be able to tell who the champions are by recognizing who makes specific commitments and tells the world precisely what they will do to better protect the world’s land and water, recognize Indigenous rights and increase funding for nature.
Russ Feingold served as a United States senator from Wisconsin from 1993 to 2011 and a Wisconsin state senator from 1983 to 1993. From 2013 to 2015, Russ served as the United States special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mary Robinson is the first woman president of Ireland, where she served from 1990-1997. She is the former UN high commissioner for Human Rights and the chair of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela.
Both are members of the Campaign for Nature’s Global Steering Committee, a group of former heads of state, foreign ministers and diplomats from four continents who are calling on governments worldwide to support a new global goal to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and