In anticipation of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity summit in Kunming, China, later this year, scientists and other stakeholders have developed the Global Deal for Nature. As a time-bound, science-driven plan to protect 30% of land and water by 2030, the Global Deal is a stepping stone to conserving 50% of the Earth in a natural state by 2050. In the next decade, we need to achieve more in terms of conservation than we have accomplished over the past century. Reaching this goal requires a rapid and collective acceleration of conservation efforts worldwide.
Just as important as the amount of protected land and water is the diversity and health of natural areas. Land-based protections must safeguard the ecosystems required to support threatened species, mitigate climate change, and safeguard biodiversity. And in the ocean, avoiding species collapse and maintaining sustainable fisheries requires comprehensive protections for critical habitats, threatened species, and migratory corridors.
Although the task is daunting, protecting 30% of land and water by 2030 is eminently achievable. Skeptics will argue that we need to use the land and oceans to feed the projected ten billion people who will share the planet by 2050, and that the proposed protections are too expensive or challenging. But research already shows that the 30% goal is attainable using existing technologies within existing consumption patterns, provided that there are shifts in policy, production, and expenditures by governments and businesses.
Moreover, the demand for food to sustain our growing population can be met with our current agricultural lands, simply by reducing food waste. But we also need to restore near-shore artisanal fisheries, and develop regenerative agriculture that provides local and healthier food while rebuilding the soil and absorbing much of the carbon pollution we emit into the atmosphere. If we redirect a portion of the government funding that subsidizes unsustainable fishing and agricultural practices each year, we can protect the natural areas that provide $125 trillion per year worth of “ecosystem services” to humans. By identifying and mitigating nature-based risks to businesses, we can create a sustainable economy that benefits both humanity and the natural world.
We have one chance to get this right. Protecting a much larger share of the natural world is an ambitious goal. But it is one that will secure a vibrant future for humanity and all the species with which we share this planet. The Global Deal for Nature, together with the Paris agreement, can save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Our very future depends on rising to the challenge.