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Will the 2030s be the decade for global biodiversity conservation?

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By Manleen Dugal

· 11 min read

The global threat to biodiversity is so severe and all-encompassing (one million species already face extinction), it qualifies for “issue salience." Can the 2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework be a watershed moment in international environmental law, finally delivering strong guidance to avert a global crisis of biodiversity? Can soft international law have the power to affect fundamental changes in the way biodiversity conservation currently takes place? Is this hinged upon how successful international diplomacy is in stimulating re-direction and scaling up of financial resources?

As always, the answer depends on quality implementation, with standards of quality set collaboratively at the international level. This piece primarily unpacks the flagship 30×30 target and highlights the significance of the delivery of funding under Target 19. It also lays out some of the other pertinent provisions in the recently adopted treaty, heralded by the international community as the “Paris Agreement” for nature. 


Human-induced biodiversity loss and climate change, two mutually reinforcing global phenomena, have demonstrated the power to radically transform the Earth’s ecological and climate systems – at rates unprecedented in human history.

Multiple drivers of biodiversity loss – key amongst them being land and sea-use change, overexploitation, pollution and climate change (as shown by scientific experts) – act synergistically to reduce global ecosystem functioning, thereby affecting humans and our social and economic systems adversely. 

The enormity of the findings of the 2019 IPBES Report was not lost on the international community. In yet another wake-up call, the report finds that around one million species already face extinction and an average of 25%, from the assessed plants and animal groups, are threatened. The report’s findings resuscitated international policy action, after the failed 2010 Aichi targets. The need for an effective global strategic framework to guide action for the long-term preservation of biodiversity and related ecosystem services has never been felt more strongly before. 

Historically, nations’ participation in global environmental treaties has had varying normative and behavioural impacts on domestic action, with varying degrees of incorporation in their national regulatory regimes. The hope is that the 2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework can animate the work needed, at all levels, to make fundamental changes in how conservation actions are carried out today.

2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework 

The 2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework (herewith, the GBF), heralded as a landmark Agreement and the “Paris Agreement” for nature, includes four broader Goals and 23 Targets towards the 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature of the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

The GBF has an ambitious short-term mission to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss” by 2030. A prerequisite for fulfilling this mission is a target popularly known as 30×30, embedded in Target 3 of the GBF, and discussed here.

Target 3: the flagship target

“Ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognising indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable,….”

The GBF’s flagship target is the clarion call to effectively protect “at least 30%” of land, inland waters, and coastal and marine areas by 2030, through the designation of protected areas (PAs) and use of other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). A Protected Area has a broad legal definition under the CBD as a clearly-defined geographical area designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives. In practice, there has been substantial variegation in the definition, scope and methodologies used to designate and manage PAs. PAs have also been increasingly used to address a broad array of conservation, social and economic goals. However, political commitments for increased coverage and effective management of PAs has been considerably lacking. The question that can now be asked is: Will this new impetus from international diplomacy – the GBF and the 30 x 30 Target – drive a change that can tap into the full potential of PAs?

Prior to the 15th Conference of the Parties in Montreal, the 30×30 target was already championed by the High Ambition Coalition of Nature and People, consisting of over 100 countries. Internationally, PAs and OECMs are well-regarded as cornerstone policy instruments to directly halt and reverse ongoing biodiversity loss, with co-benefits for achieving other Sustainable Development Goals. 

In fact, scientific literature regards the 30%-aspiration to be the “lower limit for effective biodiversity conservation.” A key IUCN-UNEP report explains how 30% is the minimum target for preserving fundamental global biodiversity values – from preventing species’ extinction (halting/reversing the decline of endangered or threatened species), protecting biodiversity and ecosystem-services-rich areas, preserving crucial spawning areas and migration sites, and preventing fragmentation and habitat degradation in ecologically-intact areas that support large-scale ecological processes. If areas of high carbon density and climate refugia are to be offered protection, the coverage of PAs and OECMs would have to be increased to 50% of Earth’s land and sea. 

As per a detailed analysis of Target 3 by Equilibrium Research, the numerical aspiration of 30% could be subject to varying legal interpretations. Some countries may prefer to interpret 30% as an all-inclusive target, while conservation groups would prefer to aim for a 30% coverage for each of the three elements – land, inland waters, and marine/coastal areas – separately. Equilibrium Research’s analysis also sheds light on the significance of the phrase – “Ensure and enable” – under Target 3. This language reflects the dire need to establish relevant national Protected Areas-related legislation in many countries, and as Equilibrium Research’s briefing points out – the need for updating policy, as well as the much-needed funding gap – in order to make effective biodiversity conservation a reality.

Quality over quantity for target 3 deliverance 

To put the 30×30 target in perspective, currently, 17% of land and 8% of marine areas are under protection. Given prior concerns over the “quality” of such protected areas under Aichi Target 11, the 2022 GBF calls for the target to include “ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems” PAs and OECMs. International collaboration can be a key aspect of ensuring quality – to bring under protection only those areas rich in biodiversity (not selected “for their size but for their ecological value”) and without conflicts with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. 

In fact, a significant aspect of the GBF is the call for conservation efforts to be undertaken in a manner that respects the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), “including over their traditional territories” (Target 3). Even though the latter is not recognised as a separate protection category under Target 3, the text of the GBF is commended by the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity for upholding the rights of IPLCs.

What of the rest of the 70% of Earth?

One scientific study affirms that simply achieving the quantitative goal set out in Target 3 would not be sufficient for maintaining ecosystems of high ecological integrity (Target 1), nor sufficient for the recovery and conservation of threatened species and genetic diversity (Target 4), nor for overall maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity-related ecosystem services (Goal B and several Targets). This is especially so if the rest of the 70% of land and sea is open to human exploitation without limits defined by biodiversity-conservation values. This is why the highly-regarded IUCN-UNEP report recommends that beyond the 30% target, the best sustainability targets should be applied to protecting the remaining 70% of the Earth, in a “Whole Earth Approach.”

Guidance and standards have been developed by the IUCN with respect to what constitutes Protected Area, how to identify key Biodiversity Areas and four different governance types that ought to be used, including governance by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, based on human-rights-based approaches. 

As always, national efforts are required to make sure these areas are well-governed and effectively managed. As pointed out by the report by Equilibrium Research, action is needed on developing more comprehensive guidance on the selection criterion for OECMs with specific links to biodiversity, to ensure governments do not declare OECMs in a capricious manner. 

Cost-benefit analysis of the 30×30 target

As with several environmental management and policy decisions, the 30×30 target has been subject to a cost-benefit analysis. A widely-cited analysis, involving more than 100 scientists/economists, estimates that the total economic output of sectors directly impacted (agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism) increases by a range of US$64-454 billion per year (depending on the implementation approach) by 2050, in a scenario where PAs are expanded (versus non-expansion). This analysis includes the notion of PAs as an economic sector in its own right, with high-revenue generating potential through tourism.

Add to the above estimates of the large risks avoided through staving off catastrophic natural disasters, plus the non-monetary value of ecosystem services preserved, and this would dwarf the estimated investment costs of $103-178 billion per year required for the expansion of PAs under Target 3. Just a partial assessment, focussed on forests and mangroves alone, estimates an “avoided-loss” value of $170-534 billion per year from avoiding flooding, climate change, soil loss and coastal storm surge-related damages. 

As PAs are central to reducing land-use change, and the latter has the largest potential impact on zoonotic disease emergence, the cost-avoidance of pandemics such as Covid19 should be at once imaginable and unimaginable to all of us inhabiting this planet today. 

Target 19

A 2020 UN Summit had called attention to a funding shortfall of $700 billion as one of the key roadblocks to successfully meeting the Aichi targets. 

The expansion of PAs to meet Target 3 requires the bulk of the investments to be made in low- and middle-income countries. This makes the availability of biodiversity-related financing for developing countries a prerequisite for success. It’s no surprise then that the issue of resource mobilisation was a major sticking point in the COP15 negotiations

What gives hope is the commitment in the final outcome to mobilise at least 200 billion United States dollars per year” by 2030 from varied sources (public and private) and the agreement to set up a “global biodiversity fund” to finance the implementation. This includes a commitment to scale up total biodiversity-related international financial resources from developed countries to developing countries, especially least-developed countries and small island developing States, to at least US$ 20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least US$ 30 billion per year by 2030.”

A major setback in the GBF, from the point of view of developing countries, was the non-inclusion of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) in the treaty texts. While CBDR’s status as a globally accepted legal norm remains contentious, it is a founding principle of the Rio Declaration (Article 7) and is considered the underlying basis for the financing provisions under CBD. As well put by international scholars of environmental law (Professors Percival, Robert, Yang, Tseming, et al), the CBDR principle, along with other principles such as sustainable development and intergenerational equity “gained widespread acceptance as fundamental principles of sound planetary stewardship.”

Other significant targets

  • Target 2 aims at the effective restoration of at least 30% of the already degraded terrestrial, inland waters, and coastal/marine ecosystems.
  • Target 6 aims to eliminate, minimise, reduce and or mitigate the impacts of invasive alien species on biodiversity, including reducing the rates of introduction and establishment by at least 50%, by 2030. 
  • Target 18 calls for a progressive phase out of subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity “by at least US$500 billion United States dollars per year by 2030” freeing up fiscal resources that can be used to “scale up positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.”
  • Target 16 aims at encouraging sustainable patterns of consumption, significantly reducing overconsumption, including through halving food waste and reducing waste generation. 
  • Target 15 is a significant commitment to ensure that large businesses, transnational companies and financial institutions assess and disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, including in their supply and value chains. This target can be operationalised through a worldwide adoption of the recently launched Task Force on Nature-related Financial Risk Disclosures – a global risk management and disclosure framework to integrate nature into decision-making. 


The success of the Montreal Protocol – rightly acclaimed as a model for successful environmental treaties – has been attributed to several factors including the strength of commitment of parties, political will, global partnership and partnership between State and Non-State Actors. These factors are essential ingredients for the successful implementation of the GBF, especially since robust standards are required for implementing the 30×30 target, which necessitates a “two-way flow of information from local to global and vice-versa”  and maintenance of synergies with other conventions. 

The aim of the GBF was not to achieve a lowest-common denominator outcome but to be a step above international commitments/actions taken in the past. Aspects that set the GBF apart from its predecessors are the agreed-upon mechanisms for its planning, monitoring, reporting and review and the scaled-up financial commitments. A question that looms large is – will developed countries fulfil their financial commitments or will it end up a broken promise similar to the $100 billion a year for climate finance?

This article is also published on illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Manleen Dugal is an independent consultant (policy and law) on international climate change policy, environmental sustainability, and trade and development policy issues. Manleen has advised WTO Members since 2004 and also offers her services to international organisations (UN agencies), consulting firms, think-tanks and businesses. Manleen is passionate about writing on environmental/climate change topics and conveying complex and multi-dimensional issues to a wider audience in an accessible manner.

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