A grand view of Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand, which has long been a prime watershed of the upper Southern region. Credit: Wisoot Supong

Asean leaders urged to back protection of 30% of land and oceans ahead of CBD conference

Scientists and experts in the region under an umbrella, Campaign for Nature, a coalition of more than 100 conservation organizations around the world including the Wyss Campaign for Nature and National Geographic Society, have called for Asean leaders to publicly throw their support to save 30% of the Earth’s land and oceans, seen as a key survival of humans against increasing threats including pandemics in the future

The group has issued the statement today, calling on the leaders to show their stance of supporting a growing call for protection of land and oceans by 30% by 2030.

The proposal, widely known as the 30×30 proposal, is championed by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People or HAC, an intergovernmental coalition of more than 60 countries co-chaired by Costa Rica, France, and the UK, to push the effort to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans ahead of the next convention on biodiversity set to be agreed later this year, or the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China.

Other members from Asia include Japan, Pakistan, and the Maldives, while from Asean countries, there is still only Cambodia joining the group.

The 30×30 proposal gains momentum as it has been included in the Convention on Biological Diversity’s draft strategy on post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a new global target, under which countries will have different opportunities for biodiversity conservation depending on the particular circumstances in their national territory. However, it needs countries’ commitment to implement it based on the best science, Asean’s included.

“While urgent action on the coronavirus pandemic could divert attention from the biodiversity and climate crises, the science tells us we cannot wait any longer.

“In fact, the pandemic has shown us that action to protect and conserve nature now can play an important role in preventing future health crises,” the group remarked in the statement.

More about Campaign for Nature, click here.

An elephant, a big brother of Kaeng Krachan forest, also an umbrella species as it roams through the dense forest, paving the way for other species to follow. Credit: Wisoot Supong

Although the countries in the region combined comprise only 3% of the earth’s surface, they are home to about 18 percent of the world’s endangered species. These include the saola, known as the Asian unicorn, as well as the Malaysian steam toads, the Philippine crocodile and the helmeted hornbill, found in Thailand. 

More than two thousand species have been discovered in the region over the past two decades, and its land and oceans contain 35 per cent of the world’s mangrove forests and 30 per cent of its coral reefs. Across the region, the importance of biodiversity_whether linked to traditional medicine, tourism, fishing or agriculture_is an important part of member states’ economies, food and societies, the group noted.

Nevertheless, the region faces similar threats like the other part of the word, with the ongoing and rapid loss of natural areas, especially by deforestation.

Worldwide, some 60% of the world’s terrestrial wildlife populations have been lost since 1970, while 90% of the ocean’s big fish have been killed in the last century alone. One million plant and animal species, meanwhile, are estimated to face extinction, many within decades, and this is because of human activity.

While Asean members have yet to finalize their positions, there is growing support around the world for a scientific proposal to conserve at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean. This is a global target, and there is increased recognition that it must fully respect Indigenous rights and engage Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities as full partners in implementation, the group remarked.

Overwhelming scientific data and evidence shows that conserving at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean is a key way to help address global biodiversity loss, in addition to storing carbon, preventing future pandemics, bolstering economic growth, increasing fisheries’ production, and advancing Indigenous rights, the group noted.

The economic benefits are also strong, they said. One study prepared by more than 100 economists and experts found that meeting the 30% target will generate financial and ecosystem services benefits at least five times the cost, the group pointed.

“As one of the most biodiverse regions, Asean countries have a crucial role to play in developing a successful global strategy to safeguard biodiversity,” the group remarked in the statement.

Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Ambassador and Science Advisor to the Campaign for Nature, said to overcome the current global health crisis and mitigate those to come, it’s science that guides the way.

Having delivered life-saving vaccines for COVID-19, which the IMF estimates will have cost the global economy $28 trillion by 2025, scientists now urge people to preserve intact natural areas to prevent similar infectious disease outbreaks in future.

“Protecting at least 30 per cent of the planet by 2030 is a timely and important action to defend and improve the health of our planet, our economies, and ourselves.,” he said while urging Malaysians and Asean neighbours to support the goal.

Tony La Viña, Former Undersecretary of Environment, Philippines, said there is growing recognition that effectively responding to climate change will require greater attention to and an increased investment in nature conservation.

“I encourage all Asean countries to embrace the proposal to protect at least 30 percent of the planet as an important element of an ambitious climate strategy,” he said.