50 Countries Join Ambitious Plan to Protect 30% of Earth by 2030

The group has united as the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People.

Costa rica colorful frog
Red-eyed tree frog on a leaf in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Francesco Riccardo Iacomino / Getty Images

Earth’s biodiversity is in trouble. A landmark 2019 assessment from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that around one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. At the same time, human actions have dramatically transformed 75 percent of the Earth’s surface and 66 percent of its ocean ecosystems. 

To solve this problem, a group of more than 50 countries have come together under the banner of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People and pledged to protect 30 percent of Earth’s land and oceans by 2030. The initiative is being referred to in the media as HAC 30x30.

“Our future depends on preventing the collapse of the natural systems that provide our food, clean water, clean air and stable climate,” Rita El Zaghloul, HAC coordinator at the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica, told Treehugger in an email. “In order to preserve these crucial services for our sustainable economies, we must protect enough of the natural world to sustain them.” 

HAC had its start in 2019, when a small group of countries including Costa Rica and France decided to do something to combat biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. It was discussed at various international gatherings over the past two years, but officially launched Jan. 11, according to a press release. HAC is co-chaired by Costa Rica, France, and the UK, but now has the support of more than 50 countries, including Canada, Chile, Japan, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. Together, the countries represent 30 percent of the world’s land-based biodiversity, 25 percent of its land-based carbon sinks, 28 percent of important areas of marine biodiversity, and more than 30 percent of ocean carbon sinks.

The group’s ambitious goal was announced at the One Planet Summit for Biodiversity, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron along with the World Bank and the United Nations. 

“We call on all nations to join us,” Macron said in the video launching the plan. 

The 30x30 goal is based on an emerging scientific consensus that protecting ecosystems from human exploitation is essential to protecting the species they support. Biologist E.O. Wilson, for example, has called for the “conservation moonshot” of protecting half of the land and the sea. 

In the meantime, El Zaghloul said, “experts agree that a scientifically credible and necessary interim goal is to achieve a minimum of 30% protection by 2030.”

The goal was backed by more than a dozen experts in a paper published in Science Advances in 2019. 

El Zaghloul said the goal was important for four key reasons. 

  1. To prevent biodiversity loss: Changes in land and ocean use are the leading causes of the loss of nature, the IBPES assessment found. But studies have shown that preserving habitat on both land and sea can save species from extinction and help them to recover. 
  2. To solve the climate crisis: Preserving natural carbon sinks like the Amazon rainforest is an important part of climate action. A 2020 UN report found that conserving 30 percent of key terrestrial ecosystems could keep more than 500 gigatons of carbon out of the atmosphere. 
  3. To save money: Popular discourse often pits the environment and the economy against each other, but, without nature, the economy would collapse. A report based on the work of more than 100 scientists and economists found that the benefits of preserving 30 percent of ecosystems counterbalanced the costs by at least five to one. 
  4. To prevent pandemics: The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has shown a light on the possibility of new diseases to pass from animals to humans. Protecting nature makes it less likely that this will happen again in the future. 

HAC is hoping that the 30x30 goal will be widely adopted at the upcoming meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China. Already it is gaining traction. While the U.S is not part of the HAC, President Joe Biden signed a series of climate-focused Executive Orders Wednesday that included a goal to protect at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030.

Green sea turtle over coral reef
Georgette Douwma / Getty Images

However, world leaders have agreed to targets in the past and failed to meet them. Of the 20 biodiversity targets set in Aichi, Japan in 2010, only six of them were partially met, according to a Convention on Biological Diversity report. Organizers hope the new commitment will be different. 

"Our life depends on nature and the planet's ecosystems. We urgently need to step up action to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis. The European Union will continue to show high ambition to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to lead by example and undertake all efforts for a transformative post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the upcoming 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity,” Commissioner of the European Commission for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Mr. Virginijus Sinkevičius said in the HAC press release. 

Savio Carvalho, Greenpeace's Global Campaign Lead for Forests & Food, offered a word of caution.

“In itself it will not help,” he said, “but if it’s done with other important actions then it would help us really protect the planet.”

He argued that participating countries needed to back up their words with actions by moving away from extractive industries like fossil fuels. He also noted that more than 30 percent of land is already inhabited by Indigenous communities, who tend to be best suited to preserving the ecosystems they steward. Simply recognizing these communities’ legal rights to the land would work to protect it. He argued that conservation drives must move away from the past, when wealthy individuals in one country would pay to have land fenced off in another.

“Member states need to decolonize the concepts of conservation,” he said. 

The HAC press release does acknowledge the importance of working with Indigenous and local communities on conservation and announced a task force to focus on these issues ahead of the meeting in Kunming. But Carvalho argued acknowledgment was a bare minimum. 

“These safeguards need to be enshrined in law,” he said.