Nearly Every Country Signs On to a Sweeping Deal To Protect Nature

Roughly 190 nations, aiming to halt a dangerous decline in biodiversity, agreed to preserve 30% of the planet’s land and seas. The United States is not officially a participant.

The agreement reached in Montreal comes as biodiversity is declining worldwide at rates never seen before in human history.
Source: Lars Hagberg/Agence France-Presse

Roughly 190 countries early on 19 December approved a sweeping United Nations agreement to protect 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030 and to take a slew of other measures against biodiversity loss, a mounting under-the-radar crisis that, if left unchecked, jeopardizes the planet’s food and water supplies as well as the existence of untold species around the world.

The agreement comes as biodiversity is declining worldwide at rates never seen before in human history. Researchers have projected that a million plants and animals are at risk of extinction, many within decades. The last extinction event of that magnitude was the one that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

While many scientists and advocates had pushed for even stronger measures, the deal, which includes monitoring mechanisms that previous agreements had lacked, clearly signals increasing momentum around the issue.

“This is a huge moment for nature,” Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, a coalition of groups pushing for protections, said about the agreement. “This is a scale of conservation that we haven’t seen ever attempted before.”

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Overall, the deal lays out a suite of 23 environmental targets. The most prominent, known as 30x30, would place 30% of land and sea under protection. Currently, about 17% of the planet’s land and roughly 8% of its oceans are protected, with restrictions on activities such as fishing, farming, and mining.

The United States is just one of two countries in the world that are not party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, largely because Republicans, who are typically opposed to joining treaties, have blocked United States membership. That means the American delegation was required to participate from the sidelines. (The only other country that has not joined the treaty is the Holy See.)

President Biden has signed an executive order that would similarly place 30% of United States land and waters under protection, but any legislative efforts to support that goal are expected to face strong opposition when Republicans take control of the House in January.

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