After moving backwards for four years on all things related to the environment under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has put forward an ambitious plan to protect 30 percent of federal lands and water by 2030 as part of its broader climate initiative.
This places the U.S. back into a highly significant global conversation to protect some of the most important places on Earth. Fighting climate change without advancing biodiversity efforts is as futile as trying to save tigers from extinction without protecting the habitats in which they thrive.
Biodiversity conservation is not only an important part of fighting climate change; it brings other important benefits through the provision of a whole range of ecosystem goods and services. Biodiversity is deeply linked to our mental and physical health, clean water, food security and jobs that depend on the environment. And, with approximately 1 million plant and animal species threatened by extinction, the loss of our natural habitats is as much of a global crisis as climate change.
Biodiversity is shorthand for biological diversity, which basically stands for the variety of all life forms on Earth and how they relate to each other within ecosystems. Biodiverse and healthy ecosystems help our planet withstand shocks such as climate change and natural disasters.
The world’s largest reinsurance company, Swiss Re, published a stark warning highlighting that 20 percent of countries have ecosystems on the verge of collapse. In their warning, they speak about the consequence of losing vital “services” in economic terms. Instead of experiencing rolling crises in food and water supply, we need to connect the economy back to the environment and also to the biodiversity that provides “services” that we should protect.
This is why the Biden administration should take equally bold steps against climate change’s sister crisis — the drastic and accelerating loss of biological diversity on our planet. There are three critical areas where we can go beyond the “30 by 30” initiative:
First, we need to identify who is most negatively impacting biodiversity and make them stop. For example, we know about the crucial role honeybees and other pollinators play for crops grown in the U.S. Companies that produce pesticides that harm them need to be held accountable for destroying the “services” that this biological diversity supports. We hold polluters accountable for their impact and we need to do the same for those with negative impacts on biodiversity.
Second, Americans should protect biodiversity and ecosystems in our country and abroad because they are deeply interlinked. Just as we care about child labor in the supply chain of consumer products or toxic factories that produce goods we need, we must to stop habitat destruction that is caused by the things we buy. For example, the way we import soy, beef or palm oil can damage tropical forests in Brazil and South East Asia and the shrimp we consume often damages precious mangroves across the tropics. We have to develop systems, as they are underway in Europe and the UK, to stop exporting habitat destruction abroad. We also have to hold our banks and hedge funds accountable for investing in businesses that are driving the destruction of critical ecosystems abroad (and at home).
Third, we should celebrate those people across the world who are historic and natural guardians of biodiverse lands and resources. Strengthening the rights of Indigenous peoples is critical because they are often the last line of defense against the destruction of natural habitats. For example, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have fought damaging methods of oil pipeline development and oil extraction as well as President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP senator warns his party must decide between ‘conservatism and madness’ Pompeo rebukes Biden’s new foreign policy Here are the 11 Republicans who voted to remove Greene from House committees MORE’s infamous border wall. The world’s approximate 370 million Indigenous people constitute less than 5 percent of the global population, yet they manage over 25 percent of global land surfaces, in turn supporting about 80 percent of global biodiversity. The Biden administration would do well in making tribal sovereignty a linchpin of its implementation of the “30 by 30” initiative. The confirmation of Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandRobinhood looks for in-house lobbyist amid backlash from lawmakers Indigenous groups mount campaign against ABC’s ‘Big Sky’ Biden seeks to bolster consultation with Indian Country MORE (D-N.M.) as secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and first ever Native American Cabinet member would be a significant first step in this direction.
It is a breath of fresh air to have a U.S. administration that is putting climate action front and center. We all have a duty to educate each other on what that means and make the importance of a biologically diverse environment easier to understand and act upon. Now is the time to connect this intuition with specific and systemic actions we can take to protect biodiversity, so that “nature” can do its job in protecting all of us.
Johanna von Braun, PhD, was executive director of Natural Justice. Most recently a program officer in the Open Society Foundation’s Economic Justice Program. She has worked or consulted for leading organizations in the field of environmental justice with a focus on climate change and biodiversity for the past 20 years.