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Vox News: Biden wants to triple protected lands

Vox's Lili Pike reports that Biden wants to triple the amount of protected lands by the federal government and that conserving 30 percent of land and 30 percent of ocean waters by 2030 would be a big win for the climate and biodiversity.

Biden took the next leap in pursuing his climate agenda Wednesday, signing the latest in a spate of environment-focused executive orders. One of the most ambitious goals buried in the order he put forward is to conserve nearly a third of US land and ocean waters by 2030.

(Scientists say that we are in a biodiversity crisis and there are reports that large numbers of wildlife are going extinct thanks to climate change)

Pike explains that currently, only 12 percent of the country’s land and 26 percent of its oceans are protected, according to a 2018 report by the Center for American Progress. This was achieved by slowly expanding protected areas over the past few decades — until former President Trump took office. In his first year, his administration dramatically shrank two Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — the largest removal of federal land from protection in US history, according to the New York Times. Now the Biden administration will have to quickly reverse course to meet the new goal.

(We strongly belive that protecting the country’s land and oceans should not be a Biden Administration issue but bipartisan)

The “30 by 30” target is based on scientific recommendations for addressing the rapid loss of biodiversity and using natural ecosystems to fight climate change. The biodiversity crisis may still be invisible to many people, but it has had profound effects. One recent study found that North America has lost over a quarter of its bird population since 1970. And biodiversity isn’t just for birdwatchers, it also underpins the health of the ecosystems that sustain agriculture and many other essential activities.

Advocates of the 30 by 30 target, who’ve been pushing for it for several years, say addressing our various planetary crises requires this kind of bold action. “30 by 30 is rising to the level of ambition we need to see,” Greg Zimmerman, director at Protect 30x30, told Vox.

(We can achieve these goals if both sides work together. There are a lot of incredible opportunities for jobs and business that helps both us and our wilderness friends). 

In the same executive order today, Biden announced a pause on new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands — a shift that could free up more land for conservation. And that is only one of many tools the administration might use to fulfill the new goal. Here’s a quick rundown of the science behind 30 by 30 and how it might become reality.

(Switching away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is key to help our planet stabilize and achieve the Paris Climate Accord goals)

Why 30 by 30?

Pike illustrates that the target of 30 by 30 is ambitious, but it is actually only a step toward an aggressive new approach to conservation scientists say is needed to limit the biodiversity crisis and climate change.

Under the pressures of population growth, increasing consumption, habitat destruction, and rising temperatures, species have been disappearing alarmingly fast: going extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate seen over the past millions of years. In a major May 2019 biodiversity report, the UN warned that 1 million species are at risk of extinction across the world. The “sixth mass extinction” is in fact set to accelerate, a study published in PNAS one month later confirmed.

In 2019, conservation scientists called for a “Global Deal for Nature” to protect 50 percent of the planet. Achieving this goal would help restore the extinction rate to its natural tempo, preserving 90 percent of species. It would also protect valuable carbon sinks such as tropical forests that are critical to fighting global warming.

As a checkpoint on the way to that end goal, these scientists and others proposed reaching 30 percent protection by 2030. It is now the proposed goal for the biggest UN biodiversity negotiations in a decade, to be held in Kunming China in October. More than 50 countries have already pledged their support for the target.

Beyond topline numerical targets, conservation advocates also call for species from across a variety of ecosystems to be protected, rather than, say, just conserving one region in a country.

(We can avoid this and more if we work together for our planet)

Getting to 30 percent

Like Biden’s other climate initiatives, reaching 30 by 30 in the US will require a massive push from across the government and civil society.

But the administration won’t be starting from scratch politically. Pike reportst that the groundwork for the executive order was laid by companion 30 by 30 Congressional resolutions introduced by Rep. Deb Haaland and former Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico over the last two years. The target was also part of the Biden campaign’s climate platform.

The executive order will kick off the process of devising a strategy to achieve 30 by 30, but Biden has already taken some preliminary actions to achieve it. Last week, in his first climate executive order, he called for a review of Trump’s decisions to downsize national monuments.

Going forward, the administration could set aside a great deal of land and oceans through executive powers alone, by using the Antiquities Act to designate new monuments, for example. But protecting 30 percent of land (up from the current 12 percent) will require a more comprehensive effort.

On Wednesday, the administration said the executive order “launches a process for stakeholder engagement from agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, States, Territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that will result in broad participation.”

Although setting a strong national goal and providing federal support is critical, solutions should also come from states, cities, and other stakeholders, said Zimmerman of the Wyss Campaign for Nature. ”If it is a top-down mandate, it will fail.”

Private land contains much of the nation’s biodiversity and carbon sinks, according to a New York Times op-ed published in December by UC Berkeley environmental scientists Arthur Middleton and Justin Brashares. They suggested that landowners can be compensated for protecting their land through existing tools such as conservation easements while new approaches may also be needed.

On oceans, the US is ahead of the curve. “The U.S. is well on its way to meeting a 30x30 goal for the ocean given strong bipartisan leadership by past administrations,” said Amy Kenney, executive director of the National Ocean Protection Coalition. But more work is needed to protect waters off of the continental US — most of today’s protected marine areas are around Hawaii and the western Pacific.

If approached carefully, Zimmerman said that conservation efforts can be bipartisan. A 2019 poll commissioned by the Center for American Progress found that 76 percent of Republicans supported setting a 30 by 30 target.

(There clearly is a bipartisan support for getting to these goals. Everyone can see the major effects of climate change. Extreme weather events are getting more common and if we do not act now, things will get worse! Thanks for the great article Vox!)

Source: Vox News

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