World Conservation Summit COP15: Is the “30 by 30 target” wishful thinking?

The “30 times 30 goal” is ambitious: by 2030, 30 percent of the world’s land and sea areas are to be protected. So far, this protection status has only been granted for around 17 percent of land areas and 7 percent of the seas. The efforts of the world community would have to be almost doubled, if not quadrupled. Starting Wednesday, more than 290 countries will discuss how this should succeed at the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montréal, Canada.

Thomas Brey is already skeptical about the World Conservation Summit: “I don’t think we will be able to do it,” said the head of the “Functional Ecology” section at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research to the Science Media Center (SMC). For a long time he has been campaigning for the Antarctic Weddell Sea to become a nature reserve, and he repeatedly encounters political resistance, especially from Asia and Russia.

Brey is convinced that placing 30 percent of the oceans under nature protection will not work. “There would have to be a miraculous shift in the geopolitical balance of power in a very surprising way so that an agreement could be reached,” he said.

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Too many numbers, not enough concrete information

According to Brey, one aspect of the “30 times 30 goal” in particular gives him “extreme headaches”. Instead of concentrating on protecting ecosystems from destruction and using them sustainably, the global community is focusing too much on the specified percentages. “We are making the metrics the target of our action, and that is extremely dangerous,” warned the scientist. Then it’s just a matter of protecting as much area as possible – “no matter where, no matter how”. “You lose sight of the actual goal, namely to protect where it is important.”

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Almut Arneth also sees this risk. The professor from the Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research – Atmospheric Environmental Research told the SMC that no specific efficiency targets are associated with the number targets. It becomes vague with questions such as “Where are the protected areas created?”, “How are they managed?” and “How are they financed?”. At the moment everything is just “too vaguely formulated”, she finds. The necessary balance is missing.

Protected areas on land have economic consequences

Arneth also said that there is great resistance to nature reserves, not only in terms of the seas but also of land areas. Today, 70 percent of the land is influenced by humans, 50 percent alone by intensive agriculture to produce food and fodder. There is hardly any space left for protected areas.

In addition, any human use would be prohibited in protected areas – which would be beneficial for biodiversity, but not for feeding humanity. Food and feed production would have to take place on smaller areas, which in turn would drive up the prices of the products. Or they would have to relocate to other countries and expand from there, which would entail other disadvantages. Ultimately, therefore, one’s own consumer behavior must also be questioned, warned the ecosystem researcher.

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Climate change and species extinction are linked

Changing consumer behavior is also one of the demands made by the Leibniz Biodiversity Research Network on Monday in its “ten must-dos from biodiversity research”. Away from meat consumption is the motto. Agriculture must become more ecological. The researchers demanded that the existing subsidy funds should be used specifically for the transformation of agriculture in order to strengthen biodiversity. They also spoke out in favor of protecting the forest from overexploitation and making it fit for life in the face of climate change, designing cities differently, unsealing soil and planting trees in streets.

These measures have a double benefit: they counteract the extinction of species and against climate change. The latter also has an impact on the biodiversity crisis. That is why both crises cannot be viewed in isolation from each other, Arneth made clear. “We can think about the best protected areas in the world if climate change progresses so quickly that the vegetation in these areas changes, animal species move elsewhere because it is too warm or too dry for them, then we will have in ten to 20 years great protected areas, but they no longer serve their purpose.”

Financing the protected areas is also a task for the North

The biggest sticking point of the World Conservation Conference will probably be the financing. There is a particularly large amount of biodiversity that needs to be preserved in the Global South. As a result, many protected areas would have to be created there. Katrin Böhning-Gaese also sees responsibility for the richer countries in the Global North. They would have to establish financing mechanisms so that the protection zones are not only created on paper, but also implemented in reality.

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“Protected areas are an essential instrument of nature conservation,” said the director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center to the SMC. According to estimates by experts, around one million animal and plant species are currently threatened with extinction. Protected zones would give them the opportunity to develop without human interference. From Böhning-Gaese’s point of view, it is important that these areas are created with the indigenous and local population on site.

“Last generation” after criticism again with adhesive protests in Berlin and Munich

In Berlin and Munich, activists of the “Last Generation” have once again glued themselves to the streets.

“Of course we have to do our part,” said Arneth, referring to the global North’s pioneering role in financing. However, the financial means that are currently in the room are “outrageous”, almost “ridiculous”. For example, Germany would currently spend more money on a gas price brake than on nature conservation. “You have to ask yourself: Are the priorities set correctly?”

“30 x 30 goal” is “minimum goal”

Arneth is equally unsure whether the “30 by 30 goal” is achievable. “It’s possible, but only with a wide range of actors working together.” This includes governments, who have to set subsidies sensibly, but also consumers. “And if we can do that, then it would definitely be possible.”

Biologist Böhning-Gaese, on the other hand, speaks of a “minimum goal”. “If we don’t implement the ’30 by 30 target’ – with the addition that these are well-managed areas that are well connected to other areas – then this world summit on nature would have really failed.”

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