Eight things you should know about the 30×30 nature conservation target

November 30, 2022


Read the full paper here.


Eight things you should know about the 30×30 nature conservation target

Callum M. Roberts1,2, Julie P. Hawkins1 and Bethan C. O’Leary1

1Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK

2Chief Scientific Advisor to Blue Marine Foundation

This year the global community will decide how much of the planet to protect by the end of this decade. Momentum has developed around protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030, but the origins and justification for the target are poorly represented in discussions. This factsheet summarises the scientific rationale and background to 30×30. It explains why getting 30×30 across the line at COP15 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is critical to achieving diverse goals, which range from saving biodiversity and reducing the rate and impacts of climate change, to securing the basic ecosystem goods and services on which human life, prosperity and well-being depend.


  1. 30×30 is a scientific, not a political target

30×30 sounds like a slogan, but the number is founded in detailed scientific research. Previous targets to protect 10% of sea and 17% of land by 2020 were political. Since they were agreed, research has demonstrated that 10% and 17% protection will not prevent catastrophic loss of biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and services. A growing body of evidence indicates 30% protection is a safer minimum for long-term viability of nature and people.


  1. 30×30 has clear ecological foundations

Embracing the full richness of biodiversity demands substantial coverage of protected areas because species are scattered widely over the planet. Based on well-established species-area relationships, strategic protection of 30% of the planet could safeguard >90% of species, while 10% or 17% protection would certainly lead to mass extinctions.

Persistence and resilience of ecological functioning are essential in the face of rapid planetary change. Networks of protected areas boost resilience to rapid planetary change by facilitating range shifts and wildlife movements. Connectivity rises with protection coverage and models of protected area size and spacing indicate sufficient connectivity is achieved above 30% protection.

Few studies have attempted to estimate how much natural capital, and of what quality must be maintained to sustain the functioning of the whole biosphere. 30% is likely at the borderline of sufficiency, and for this to be effective, very high levels of ecosystem integrity within protected areas must be delivered through strong protection and good management.


  1. Climate change mitigation requires greater protected area coverage

Transitional pathways to climate stabilisation at 2oC or lower require nature-based solutions to boost withdrawal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and prevent re-release of carbon from existing natural stores. Such efforts not only require remaining carbon sequestering ecosystems and stores to be protected, but a reversal of past losses of biodiversity and habitat extent through restoration, taking required protection well above 30%.


  1. We cannot afford not to have greater protection for nature

The view that conservation is a luxury rather than necessity, is no longer viable now habitat loss and degradation are ubiquitous. How much nature protection will safeguard the planetary life-support system? If a fraction of nature must sustain the former functioning of the whole, it cannot be small, meaning 10% and 17% are not enough. If we don’t expand protection, losses will accelerate, making the world progressively more inhospitable, threatening our own existence. Green and blue spaces also help us adapt to climate change, providing benefits in proportion to their area, such as protection from rising sea levels, heatwaves, or floods.


  1. Paper parks are easy, but weak protection means reduced benefits and greater coverage required

Coverage and quality of protection inside protected spaces are two faces of the same coin. Most protected areas today are underfunded, poorly managed or weakly protected. If protection is low, or management poor, then greater coverage will be needed to secure the same benefits. A focus on quantity of protection must therefore be coupled with strenuous efforts to improve quality. By contrast, better management outside protected areas will reduce coverage required to maintain the same level of biodiversity.


  1. Achieving multiple objectives requires more space than meeting single objectives

Protected areas must fulfil multiple objectives because there isn’t the space or finance to deliver narrow targets with separate networks. Once multiple goals are considered, such as protecting carbon stores, freshwater sources and threatened species, the additive network is always larger than for single goals. The more objectives, the more extensive networks must be, rapidly driving required coverage to achieve basic nature protection goals above several tens of percent.


  1. Protected spaces and human rights can and must co-exist

Protected areas have been associated with human rights abuses, notably the forcible displacement of indigenous peoples. But protected areas can also protect indigenous peoples from rights violations from habitat conversion to other economic uses, such as cattle ranching or mining. Established in ways that respect and involve local communities, protected areas can safeguard rights, heritage and cultures.

While locals can expect to benefit disproportionately from protected areas, as many benefits are delivered locally, they also disproportionately shoulder the costs. Cost-sharing mechanisms must be sought to reward local communities for wider gains in support of national and international objectives. The flow of such financial benefits to local communities and indigenous peoples remains insufficient, meaning new and improved instruments are required.


  1. Whatever target we choose will require continual scrutiny and possible revision

Our understanding of the world is constantly evolving, so we must constantly re-evaluate our priorities and targets. There is already a credible scientific case for raising the protection target to 50%, or Half Earth as it is known. The science around 30% does not contradict this higher number, saying instead that we need to protect ‘at least’ 30%. Higher targets may also be justified if management is insufficient, protection levels too low or threats escalate further.

Read the full paper here.

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