Until recently, the goal of conserving 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030 was a concept circulating mostly within the scientific and conservation communities. In a 2018 article in Science Magazine, “Space for nature,” Jonathan Baillie (chief scientist at the National Geographic Society) and Ya-Ping Zhang (biologist with the Chinese Academy of Scientists) encouraged “governments to set minimum targets of 30% of the oceans and land protected by 2030, with a focus on areas of high biodiversity and/or productivity, and to aim to secure 50% by 2050.”
While the international conservation community has promoted the concept of 30×30 for several years, Congress has only recently indicated its support. A 30×30 resolution was introduced in the US Senate in October 2019 by Sen. Tom Udall (NM). As Sen. Udall shared in an opinion piece in the High-Country News, “If we fail to enact the kind of bold conservation framework my father [former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall] envisioned, we will forever lose millions of plant and animal species — the biodiversity critical to our rich natural inheritance and fundamental to our own survival. We will lose not just our way of life, but the planet as we know it.” The language of the resolution he sponsored was simple and clear: “This resolution urges the federal government to establish a goal of conserving at least 30% of the land and 30% of the ocean within its territory by 2030.” A similar House resolution was introduced in February of 2020 sponsored by Rep. Debra Haaland (NM) (currently serving as US Secretary of Interior), but neither passed out of committee. In his first few days of office, President Biden, in an executive order, committed to 30×30 as an official policy of the US federal government.
After years of research, scientists recognized that natural ecosystems are key to maintaining human prosperity in a warming world. Sir David Attenborough in his 2020 documentary, “A Life on Our Planet,” noted that “the loss of biodiversity and natural ecosystems and rising global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions are inextricably intertwined issues.” In the Global Deal for Nature, a science-driven plan to protect biodiversity and address climate change, prominent scientists explained the link:
“Intact forests sequester twice as much carbon as planted monocultures. These findings make forest conservation a critical approach to combat global warming. Because about two-thirds of all species on Earth are found in natural forests, maintaining intact forest is vital to prevent mass extinction. However, carbon sequestration and storage extend far beyond rainforests: peatlands, tundra, mangroves, and ancient grasslands are also important carbon storehouses and conserve distinct assemblages of plants and animals. Further, the importance of intact habitats extends to the freshwater and marine realms, with studies pointing to least disturbed wetlands and coastal habitats being superior in their ability to store carbon when compared with more disturbed sites.”
Thus, the 30×30 plan offers two enormous benefits to humankind: carbon storage and sequestration to combat climate change and the protection of the planet’s incredible biodiversity. According to a United Nations biodiversity report released in 2019, one million species could face extinction soon unless bold action is taken right away. In an opinion piece in The New York Times, renowned author and biologist E.O. Wilson noted that protecting 30% of Earth’s habitats could save roughly 75% of its remaining species. The synergy is clear: sustaining global diversity can contribute to mitigating climate change.
While the path to achieving 30×30 will be challenging, we know we need to get there, and we know that a coordinated effort that includes the following is essential:
- action at the federal level
- advancing conservation on private lands in key parts of the US
- understanding and coordinating state and tribal variations in legal and policy protection measures
- state involvement, particularly in marine conservation (due to significant gaps in federally managed coastal protections)
We hope you will join us in doing our part to achieve this goal locally.
30×30 in Acres
Approximately 60% of land in the continental US is in a “natural state,” however, every 30 seconds an amount equivalent to the size of a football field is lost (or 6,000 acres per day). Accomplishing the 30×30 goal will mean nearly tripling the 289 Million acres of US land that is currently protected. It is interesting to note that Alaska represents 150 Million of those already protected acres; if Alaska is excluded, the figure of land already protected drops from 12% to only 7%.
Total Land Area of the 50 United States is 2.4 Billion acres (1.9 Billion acres in the continental US)
* 59.9% of the land is owned by private landowners
* 28.7% is owned by the federal government (640 Million acres)
* 8.6% by state governments, 2.5% tribal authorities and .3% towns and local governments
Farm, ranch and forest owners hold close to 95% of all privately held land. 80% of us live on 3% of US lands.
In 2017, according to the Land Report, the 100 largest landowners had holdings of 40.2 Million acres, equivalent in area to all of the New England states except Vermont.