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Devastating coral bleaching due to global warming

Putting communities first is key to an equitable and just 30x30

27 October 2021
Author: Alasdair Harris

In April 2022, the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will gather in Kunming, China. The meeting, delayed for the third time due to the Covid pandemic, will bring together 196 nations and territories.

It is billed as one of the last, best opportunities to halt biodiversity loss and put the world’s lands and oceans on a pathway to sustainability. At the top of the agenda will be a new strategy to advance nature protection for the next decade. This strategy, known as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), will replace and extend the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were agreed in 2011.

As part of this process, Aichi Target 11, is set to be replaced with an ambitious new goal: 30×30. The former was concerned with establishing effective, equitable and globally representative systems of protected areas, covering 10% of the ocean and 17% of land by 2020.  Whereas 30×30, simply put, seeks to protect 30% of global land and ocean by 2030. It’s backed by the vast majority of large, international conservation nonprofits, along with over 70 national governments, including the G7 group of wealthy nations, as well as Kenya, Mozambique, and Seychelles. 

However, with protected areas currently covering 15.4% of the earth’s surface and 7.6% of the oceans, achieving 30% by 2030 would mean doubling the current land area under protection, and quadrupling the ocean area. If enacted, 30×30 would be the most extensive aquatic governance project in human history. It would require an additional area of ocean that is almost three times larger than Africa. Such an unprecedented scaling of conservation efforts brings with it several challenges, opportunities and trade-offs that will need thorough consideration by coastal states. There will be enormous practical difficulties in putting 30×30 into practice effectively, as well as potentially widespread negative consequences for  Indigenous peoples and local communities. 

In order to address the ocean emergency, we know there is an urgent need for more properly managed and funded protected areas. And yet 30×30 has been met with hostility and suspicion by many human rights activists and researchers. They argue that our sector has a long history of forcing people from their lands and fishing grounds, in the name of conservation, often violently. As such, trying to protect more of the planet risks more of the same: more violations of fundamental human rights, more conflict, more violence. And all of these impacts will fall disproportionately on those who are the most marginalised and least responsible for the biodiversity crisis.

How, then, to reconcile these two opposing views? How to ensure that fundamental rights aren’t extinguished and equity isn’t undermined in the rush to deliver the additional conservation our ocean so badly needs?

We believe the solution starts with accepting that the best way to protect nature is by protecting the human rights of the people who live in it, and whose livelihoods depend upon it. In practice, this means recognising that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are central to conservation success, and in that vein, developing a robust framework to monitor human rights and equity-focused dimensions. It also means recognising that local or collaborative stewardship, through other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), where practical, should be the principal mechanism by which near-shore waters are conserved and protected. 

To achieve this, we must be committed to ensuring that the burdens and benefits arising from protection are shared justly and equitably. We must also be willing to provide simpler legal frameworks and sustainable, flexible, long-term funding for community-based initiatives. Democratising fisheries data through digital tools can transform access to information, allowing communities to adaptively manage and rebuild their fisheries.

We must ensure secure tenure for all coastal communities. This means establishing open, robust and internationally recognised grievance mechanisms, which can resolve tenure disputes and ensure community voices are heard and elevated at the international level. 

While recognising and protecting human rights in general, we must be particularly sensitive to the specific rights of vulnerable groups such as women and young people. 

And finally, we must recognise and respect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities to not participate in the 30x30 process, and to not have their territories designated as OECMs or protected areas.

Achieving all of this won’t be easy, but it’s key to a 30x30 that benefits people and nature alike. A 30x30 which can deliver sustainable fisheries, vibrant oceans, and improved food security for billions of people.


To learn more about our 30×30 work, see our dedicated 30×30 page or download our 30×30 position paper.

About the author

Al Harris
Blue Ventures

Alasdair is the executive director at Blue Ventures