30%-Earth, Perhaps, With a Catch

New York Times, Catrin Einhorn, 19 Dec 2022: Nearly Every Country Signs On to a Sweeping Deal to Protect Nature, subtitled “Roughly 190 nations, aiming to halt a dangerous decline in biodiversity, agreed to preserve 30 percent of the planet’s land and seas. The United States is not officially a participant.”

Vox, Benji Jones, 19 Dec 2022: The world has a new plan to save nature. Here’s how it works — and how it could fail., subtitled “At the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, world leaders agreed to a historic plan to halt biodiversity loss.”

This is actually quite remarkable. It evokes E.O. Wilson’s “Half-Earth.” But there’s a catch. NYT:

Roughly 190 countries early on Monday approved a sweeping United Nations agreement to protect 30 percent 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.”

This evokes E.O. Wilson’s plan, and book, Half-Earth, reviewed here, in which he proposed setting half the planet’s land surface from human development. And now there’s an actual agreement for 30%! Amazing. (Of course, lots of agreements get made without ever being followed through.)

The catch:

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.

Because… Republicans. Simply because they don’t like joining treaties? That’s bad enough; global problems cannot be solved without global cooperation. Or because they’re selfish and short-sighted and unconcerned about the planet’s biosphere? I suspect that as secondary motivation.


Environmental advocates say that this agreement could be our last chance to reverse the decline of nature. Ecosystems and the services they provide, such as pollination for food crops, are vanishing, as companies and governments bulldoze forests and prairies, and warm the Earth with greenhouse gases. One million species are now at risk of extinction and many wildlife populations have, on average, declined by nearly 70 percent in the last 50 years.

“The figures are terrifying,” Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, the world’s largest environmental organization, told Vox. “We’ve lost almost half of the forests, half of the coral reefs. It’s really, really bad.”

Vox goes on trying to answer some hard questions about what the treaty will really do, how much it will cost, and so on.

Vox also has an earlier piece, Why the US won’t join the single most important treaty to protect nature, subtitled “America’s absence from the Convention on Biological Diversity hurts global efforts to avert extinction, experts say.” from May 2021.

Since the early 1990s — when CBD was drafted, with input from the US — Republican lawmakers have blocked ratification, which requires a two-thirds Senate majority. They’ve argued that CBD would infringe on American sovereignty, put commercial interests at risk, and impose a financial burden, claims that environmental experts say have no support.

These concerns go back nearly half a century, the article goes on. Environmental groups were formed, treaties proposed. A 1992 proposal was opposed by George H.W. Bush, because of concerns:

Among them was a fear that US biotech companies would have to share their intellectual property related to genetics with other countries. There were also widespread concerns that the US would be responsible for helping poorer nations — financially and otherwise — protect their natural resources, and that the agreement would put more environmental regulations in place in the US. (At the time, there was already pushback, among the timber industry and property rights groups, on existing environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act.)

Further down in this piece:

GOP lawmakers still resist treaties — any treaties

Two and a half decades later, concerns related to American sovereignty persist, especially within the Republican Party, and keep the US out of treaties. Conservative lawmakers stand in the way of not only CBD but also several other treaties awaiting ratification by the Senate, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.

“Conservative nationalists in the United States (including the Senate) have long mistrusted international agreements,” Stewart Patrick, director of International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an email to Vox. They view them, he added, “as efforts by the United Nations and foreign governments to impose constraints on US constitutional independence, interfere with US private sector activity, as well as create redistributionist schemes.”

In other words, not a whole lot has changed.

Global problems cannot be solved without global cooperation. Conservative politicians seem not to understand this. Or are so shortsighted and cynical as to realize they can only retain office if they appeal to their base, that does not understand this. We’re doomed.

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