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America can lead again in global conservation


For four years, science has been under attack by an administration that has dismantled over 125 environmental policies, spanning protections for federal lands and endangered species to regulations that ensure clean air and water.

The Trump presidency has cost the planet valuable time in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Additionally, the harm to scientific integrity, public trust and the United States’ international reputation will linger well beyond Trump’s tenure.

The Biden White House will represent a new day — and new hope — in the fight for environmental protection and climate action. Under the Biden-Harris administration, America has the opportunity to rebuild our stature in the world and assert our leadership in combating the climate crisis. The Biden transition website contains numerous policies that have reinvigorated scientists and those who care about the environment, including plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, reach net-zero emissions by 2050, invest in environmental justice and conserve 30 percent of the nation’s land and water by 2030.

This last directive, also called “30 by 30,” would represent one of the largest commitments to science-based conservation policy in the U.S. since the adoption of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. However, the 30 by 30 target is but one of the proposed targets to be negotiated by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at its meeting in 2021. The CBD is an international treaty focused on the conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the Earth’s biodiversity. Every recognized country in the world has ratified the treaty except the United States and the Holy See (which is a UN permanent observer State). 

The Biden administration should fix this mistake immediately and work with the Senate to ratify the CBD. Safeguarding our planet for future generations requires more than just re-signing the Paris Accord. It requires a portfolio of actions designed to address threats to biodiversity, protect and restore natural ecosystems, combat climate change and transform food and energy production. The Global Biodiversity Framework, to be adopted by the CBD in 2021, encompasses this breadth of strategies. Member states are now negotiating the next iteration of the CBD’s goals, which will frame the actions of governments for decades to come. Global biodiversity policy is at a pivotal crossroads, and the U.S. needs to have a seat at the table before it is too late.

Critically, committing the U.S. to the CBD comes at a time when the relationship between people and nature is at the forefront. The COVID-19 pandemic is a shocking demonstration of the link between our treatment of the natural world and the emergence of human disease. From this global crisis, it is clear that living in harmony with nature necessitates the recognition that biodiversity and the services it provides are essential elements of sustainable development. The pandemic has also revealed society’s capacity to take extraordinary steps in the face of an urgent, common threat. The threats of climate change and biodiversity loss are no different; the strong ties between climate, biodiversity and human health prove that efforts to alleviate one threat will have cascading benefits to human and wildlife communities alike.

Becoming a party to the CBD also gives the U.S. the opportunity to correct course in terms of designating who nature can benefit. Our country is in the midst of a much-needed racial reckoning, and the CBD offers a powerful avenue for working toward environmental justice because effectively engaging communities, elevating underrepresented voices and ensuring equity in access to nature’s benefits will be critical for target achievement. Partnerships between local communities, including Indigenous peoples and communities of color, and the Biden administration can start to bridge the divide that continues to mar the conservation space. Additionally, research has shown that modest increases in international assistance would substantially improve global conservation finance. The U.S. should work to fully fund the CBD secretariat, taking a leadership role that is both scientifically-informed and equitable in practice.

Humanity stands at a crossroads regarding the legacy it leaves to future generations. Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying. With the Biden-Harris administration, America is poised to become a decisive player in environmental policies that will result in transformative change to reverse biodiversity loss, mitigate climate change and meet environmental justice goals. 

The U.S. should ratify the CBD and join the table to design equitable and inclusive global biodiversity targets, working to secure a brighter future for our nation and the planet. 

Sarah Saunders is a PhD research scientist at The National Audubon Society. Mariah Meek is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, AgBio Research, and the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Program at Michigan State University. 

Tags biden administration biological diversity climate crisis climate policy COVID-19 Donald Trump Environmental justice environmental policy Joe Biden Paris Climate Accords

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