Countries agreed to protect 30% of the planet. Now what?

More than six months ago, nearly every country on Earth signed on to the most ambitious plan ever to protect nature — a sweeping framework that aims to conserve 30 percent of the planet’s land and waters by 2030. 

It’s an unprecedented agreement. So, what’s next?

As nations kickstart their efforts toward what’s known as the “30 by 30” goal, they face two central challenges. The first is the crucial task of ensuring the rights and participation of Indigenous peoples, who are among the most effective stewards of nature. Though their lands encompass 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, Indigenous peoples have been sidelined from previous environmental efforts — in some cases, even evicted from their territories in the name of conservation.

Another challenge arises in finding the necessary $700 billion a year needed to overcome the biodiversity crisis by 2030. Amid this major deficit, countries are grappling over who should foot the bill and how to tap into innovative funding strategies for nature, which, after all, generates huge value for the world’s economies

To learn how countries can approach these challenges equitably and effectively, Conservation News spoke with Ramiro Batzin, co-chair of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, and Carlos Correa, Colombia’s former minister of environment and a current senior fellow at Conservation International. 

Conservation News: Protecting nearly a third of the Earth is a bold goal, how do nations make it happen?

Carlos Correa: Reaching this agreement among nearly 200 countries was hard, but the really hard part comes now. We need several things, starting with effective public policies. In most countries, presidential administrations change every few years, but policies guide national conservation actions and ensure continuity. 

Cooperation is also essential. To implement “30 by 30,” we need local, state and international leaders to work together. I’m especially interested in the role of communities and local governments, which are often overlooked in global pacts, but have an important role to play. After all, they are closest to restoration and conservation efforts in the field and are key to ensuring the success of those projects. 

Finally, we need to bring people into this agreement. Protection doesn’t necessarily mean “off limits.” There are many conservation tools that governments can implement to protect biodiversity while still allowing people to benefit from the land. It’s about making sure the people who live close to nature can live sustainably from it. That means working in cooperation with Indigenous peoples — which manage forests and resources in areas that are critical for climate and biodiversity, like the Amazon or the Congo Basin.

How can countries ensure the “30 by 30” goal includes Indigenous leadership and does not repeat past harms?

Ramiro Batzin: In Guatemala, where I’m from, communities have lived in the forests for hundreds of years. We have an intrinsic relationship with Mother Earth. For us, conservation is about integrating nature with the well-being of people. It’s a concept we call “living well” or Utz Kaslemal in the Kaqchikel language — that’s our way of life. It means that if you live in harmony with nature and protect your resources, you live better.

When countries talk about protecting 30 percent of lands and seas, they usually refer to the number of hectares conserved or species protected in an ecosystem. But those are not the metrics we necessarily use. For us, success means balancing nature, human beings and the universe — it’s a holistic approach. When you focus only on hectares you leave out the cultural richness that makes Indigenous people so successful at managing their lands.  Countries must formally recognize Indigenous rights and territories — and the ways in which we use, manage and conserve our lands and natural resources. We apply our own norms, knowledge and systems of management. Successful conservation requires strengthening those management and conservation systems, ensuring our land rights, and recognizing our traditional knowledge.

The “30 by 30” goal will require increased funding for nature — where will that come from? 

CC: When people think about financing conservation, they usually think of public funding or grants from philanthropic organizations. And yes – the private sector will play an important role in filling the biodiversity financing gap. But there are many other creative funding mechanisms we should tap into. 

For example, the voluntary carbon market — which is expected to be worth up to $50 billion by 2030 — is a way for companies and others to help protect forests and mangroves. Green bonds, which fund projects that have positive environmental impacts, are also booming — they’re estimated to be worth $655 billion this year. There are debt-for-nature swaps, which enable countries to trade their foreign debt in return for a commitment to natural areas. Recently, Ecuador secured the world’s largest debt-for-nature swap; it will cut the country’s debt by $1 billion while generating funds to protect the Galápagos Islands. That success is something that other countries can learn from and replicate. 

How can countries better invest in Indigenous-led conservation?

RB: We need less bureaucracy and red tape — and more streamlined, simpler processes to fund projects that are guided by Indigenous values and priorities. Right now, international funding flows through intermediary agencies, which can take a significant portion in fees and administrative costs — meaning that for every dollar in funding, we might get only 60 to 70 cents. Financial processes must take into account the rights of those who conserve nature. It is time to put an end to mechanisms that are detrimental to nature and to humanity.

We need strengthen and find new ways for Indigenous organizations to administer more funding aligned with the needs and realities of their communities. That includes helping organizations navigate grant-making processes, which can require money to prepare proposals and pay for consultants’ fees. Where will we find resources for that? What if an Indigenous group doesn’t have a bank account or an accountant or systems to generate payments and billing? These are just some of the questions that need to be addressed to ensure our access to finance. 

The Inclusive Conservation Initiative (ICI), which Conservation International recently helped launch, is a step in the right direction. This initiative is establishing a model for direct financial support for Indigenous-led initiatives and has already started allocating its first grants and strengthening the capacity of Indigenous organizations.

Are you hopeful about “30 by 30” moving forward?

RB: For the “30 by 30” goal to be successful, the world has to change what’s not working — not only in terms of conserving and protecting nature, but also in our models of economic development. We can’t create protected areas while at the same time allowing subsidies for businesses that destroy nature. We have to change our relationship with nature, and we all need to pull together. Countries that are home to a majority of Earth’s species could set an example.

CC: I think we need to have a common language to talk about this goal, so everyone understands it and can make it their own. We need to move this conversation out of the convention halls and conference rooms and begin a process of broader engagement, where people start talking about caring for biodiversity from a young age. I think we can get there.

Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

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