By Chris Lang
At its next Conference of Parties (COP15), to be held in Montreal in December 2022, the Convention on Biological Diversity is planning to agree a framework for the next decade. Among the targets to be discussed is a plan to put 30% of the earth into protected areas by 2030 – the so-called 30×30 target.
This week sees the fourth meeting of the open-ended working group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, hosted by the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. While the meeting could hardly sound more boring, delegates of governments and conservation organisations will discuss the 30×30 target. It’s a target that could have devastating impacts for Indigenous Peoples and local communities living in and around areas slated to become “protected”.
“Not supported by the science”
Survival International, Rainforest Foundation UK, and Minority Rights Group International have written to delegates at the meeting warning that the 30×30 target is great for catchy media headlines and political slogans, but is not supported by the science.
In a press statement about the letter, Rainforest Foundation UK writes that,
This lack of scientific basis is all the more concerning as doubling the land under ‘protected area’ status could harm hundreds of millions of indigenous people and local communities who depend on and have shaped the areas set to be earmarked for protection. Protected areas, which to date remain the cornerstone of global conservation efforts, have had – and continue to have – enormous human rights and social impacts.
Stop the push for 30%
Meanwhile, Survival International has set up a petition to “Stop the push for 30%”. Survival International explains that big conservation NGOs falsely claim that the 30×30 target will “mitigate climate change, reduce wildlife loss, enhance biodiversity and so save our environment”.
Survival International writes that,
Protected Areas will not save our planet. On the contrary, they will increase human suffering and so accelerate the destruction of the spaces they claim to protect because local opposition to them will grow.
It will be the biggest land grab in world history and it will reduce hundreds of millions of people to landless poverty.
Here’s the letter from Survival International, Rainforest Foundation UK, and Minority Rights Group International:
To: Delegates to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
21st June 2022
The ‘science’ does NOT support the target of 30 percent protected areas by 2030. ‘30×30’ could actually have “perverse outcomes”
We are writing to you to express our concern at the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the ‘science’ used to justify the 30 percent protected areas (PAs) target, the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), draft Target 3.
It is clear that any agreement to nearly double the area under protected area status globally – and thus potentially impacting hundreds of millions of people  – should be based on the most rigorous scientific underpinning. However, a review of the scientific literature appears to show at least as much evidence against such a numerical target as there is in favour of it. This is particularly true of the science concerning terrestrial ecosystems protection, with which this letter is specifically concerned.
In its April 2021 paper providing ‘scientific and technical information to support updated goals and targets’ of the draft GBF, it was claimed by the CBD Secretariat that “Many recent proposals converge around protecting 30 percent or more of the land and sea surface by 2030, with the possibility of higher targets established subsequently”.  However, scrutiny of the eight documents referenced to support this assertion does not in fact reveal a ‘converging’ scientific view, at least not by truly independent scientists. Of the five that are concerned with terrestrial ecosystems, two were written by scientists working for organisations much involved in protected areas . Two others were led by Dr. Eric Dinerstein, a former lead scientist for WWF-USA, who has subsequently acknowledged that the 30 percent target is “arbitrary” . The remaining paper, a study led by Piero Visconti of IIASA, makes a strong cases against such percentage targets for PAs .
Visconti and this team point to the potential perverse outcomes of setting simple numerical targets for PAs. In relation to the previous Aichi Target of 17%, they state that “Continuing to protect areas of low opportunity costs for human uses, especially agriculture, in order to cover 17% of land will have negligible biodiversity benefits.” By contrast, if PAs were strategically sited to protect under-represented threatened species, “30 times more species could be adequately represented with the same extent of PAs”.
As the CBD admits, “Estimates vary regarding the proportion of land and sea that needs to be covered by protected areas and OECMs in order to reach conservation objectives”. In fact, there is a wide divergence as to exactly what these objectives should be, let alone how best to achieve them. Even Dr. Dinerstein and his team find that all the most endangered and rare species could be protected “by an addition of only 2.3% more land area if allocated to the right places and well managed” .
The importance of where protected areas are located, and how well they are managed (rather than just how extensive they are) recurs frequently in the science, and the CBD admits that “many protected areas are not effectively or equitably managed” . The extremely poor take-up of IUCN Green Listing (just 0.02% of PAs are listed) strongly suggests that effective and equitable management of the existing protected areas is seriously lagging.
A newly published paper – described as “the largest ever study of protected areas”  – has revealed that most do not actively benefit wildlife. This study, which looked at 27,055 waterbird populations across 1,506 protected areas, found that only 27% of all populations were positively impacted by protected areas, 21% were negatively impacted and for 48% there was no detectable protection” . The authors conclude that “Our results raise additional concerns about the ‘30 by 30’ approach by showing that protection alone does not guarantee optimal biodiversity outcomes.” One of the co-authors has stated that “An obsession with reaching a certain area-based target – such as 30% by 2030 – without a focus on improving the condition of existing protected areas will achieve little” .
In our view, then, the claim that there is “convergence” on the 30 percent protected areas’ target misrepresents the real state of credible and independent science on the subject. The CBD’s ‘science brief’ on the Targets and Goals circulated on June 14th, immediately prior to the OEWG#4 meeting, is similarly misleading in claiming that “The target level ‘at least 30%’ is well supported in the scientific literature as the lower limit for effective biodiversity conservation” .
Along with many conservation scientists, we believe that the emphasis of any area-related target in the new GBF should be biodiversity outcomes, not extent of protected areas. Given that most biodiversity is found in lands held by indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), more effective biodiversity outcomes can only be secured through wider legal recognition of these lands. Better management of existing protected areas should include the restoration of the rights of indigenous peoples and the distinct rights of local communities where these have already been negated or undermined.
We thank you for taking the time to consider these issues.
Simon Counsell, on behalf of:
Minority Rights Group
Rainforest Foundation UK
 CBD, 2021. Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework: scientific and technical information to support the review of the updated goals and targets, and related indicators and baseline. Note by the Executive Secretary, CBD/SBSTTA/24/3/Add.2/Rev.1 23 April 2021.
 CBD, 2021.
Conservationists claim that their aim to place thirty per cent of the planet in protected areas by 2030 is supported by science. It isn’t. What the science does and doesn’t say about 30×30. REDD-Monitor, Posted on 7 March 2022.
 Gill, V. 2022.