With his Jan. 27 announcement that the U.S. will commit to protecting 30% of its land and ocean by 2030, President Joe Biden joins a growing community of scientists, Indigenous peoples, and world leaders dedicated to working together on putting ecosystems—land, ocean, and freshwater—on the best paths toward sustainability.
Pursuing and meeting this target could yield significant benefits, not only for a huge range of wildlife species and their habitats, but for people as well. An increasing body of scientific evidence indicates that one-third of the cost-effective solutions to climate change could come from nature. There is also a better understanding that extensive, healthy natural systems and rich biodiversity are critical to human and physical health, the preservation of cultural traditions, and community vitality—with far-reaching economic benefits. Many other countries have already recognized the importance of nature-based solutions to a suite of environmental threats and have pledged to invest in conservation to help ensure a sustainable economic and environmental recovery.
President Biden’s commitment builds on more than a century of U.S. leadership and dedication to environmental conservation, from the creation of national parks and the conservation of other public lands to policies designed to ensure clean air and water and the protection of endangered species. These victories have come under presidents of both major political parties, and usually with strong bipartisan support in Congress and among the public.
But the work, here and abroad, is far from finished. For the U.S. and the rest of the world to succeed in achieving and maintaining 30% protection, we will need a renewed commitment to science and public engagement and a deeper understanding of how the health of the planet affects human vitality and well-being.
Achieving these new conservation commitments is highly unlikely without broad and meaningful public engagement. Conservation decision-making needs to be inclusive of communities and people economically dependent on public lands; rural and urban citizens of all backgrounds, many of whom have disparate understandings of nature; hunters and anglers; and the diverse tribes, tribal governments, and Indigenous communities that each have specific relationships with land and sea. This means a lot of people need to be at the table, and they need to listen to each other.
Such broad engagement, which must also include state and local officials, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations, is a hallmark of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ success in past conservation initiatives. These have included helping establish the first generation of large marine parks around the world, working with people and groups from across the political spectrum on legislation to create and expand wilderness, and partnering with wide-reaching coalitions to protect vast areas of the Canadian boreal forest and Australian Outback.
Pew has been committed to 30x30 protections since the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, where we and many other groups advocated for a resolution to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. Pew continues to work for these protections. By committing to this target now, President Biden is showing his determination to help preserve and restore the natural systems upon which all life on Earth depends. Reaching this goal will create a better present—and future—for billions of people worldwide.
Tom Dillon is senior vice president and head of environment at The Pew Charitable Trusts, leading a broad array of land and ocean initiatives in the United States and around the world.