Protecting Australia’s Precious Nature by 2030 Is Possible

Country is well-placed to use multiple mechanisms to achieve 30% protection of land by 2030

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Protecting Australia’s Precious Nature by 2030 Is Possible
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Recent narratives about the Earth’s environment have been marred by gloom and a sense of impending doom. Australia is no stranger to this, with bushfires and floods making headlines several years in a row and another catastrophic summer looming. Amidst this cacophony, the signing of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022, though a historic milestone, went almost unnoticed.

Yet the aim of this global framework is nothing short of revolutionary, tasking nations with a lofty science-based goal: to protect 30% of our planet’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030, a goal known by the shorthand “30x30.” Although the target is ambitious, Australia is perfectly poised to turn this challenge into a unique opportunity for a nation-building response, setting a precedent for others to draw on.

Australia’s geographical identity as both a country and a continent affords it vast and diverse stretches of terrain teeming with wildlife found nowhere else on the planet. This unique biodiversity—arguably one of the strongest characteristics of our national identity—is under threat. From rampant bushfires to less visible (but equally insidious) threats such as invasive species and habitat degradation, Australia is at an environmental tipping point. This urgency is precisely what can rally the nation into action.

Indeed, our nation is already almost three-quarters of the way to achieving the goal of protecting 30% of our land. But we still need to protect at least 60 million hectares, almost three times the area of Victoria, by 2030.

What is urgently required to get us there is the political will to ensure that this work is supported and funded. A recent report co-authored by The Nature Conservancy, WWF-Australia, the Australian Land Conservation Alliance and The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that 30x30 is entirely within our grasp—if the Australian Government invests in growing and strengthening our protected areas.

Australia’s national parks allow people to enjoy our country’s amazing natural and cultural beauty—and include global icons such as Kakadu, the Franklin River, Daintree Rainforest and Karijini. As sanctuaries where nature can thrive uninhibited, they play a key role in the protection of Australia’s biodiversity. In addition to national parks, a range of science-backed, innovative and inclusive conservation methods developed over the years are contributing to the protection of our diverse and unique landscapes—protection that’s delivered on the ground by thousands of people, including rangers and private land managers.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are managed for nature and cultural outcomes through voluntary agreements between Indigenous landowners and the Australian Government. The agreements recognise Indigenous people’s stewardship of these lands for millennia and leverage deep Indigenous knowledge of the land. Some 80 IPAs now cover more than 84 million hectares, almost half of our protected areas on land, and include iconic landscapes such as the Kimberley, Arnhem Land, Cape York and the vast deserts of central Australia. Bilbies, rock-wallabies and Gouldian finches are just a handful of the hundreds of species that have benefited as a result.

Australia also has more than 6,000 protected areas on private land, the result of philanthropic and government investment in land trusts as well as commitment from private landholders to forever protect habitats on their properties through conservation covenants—the largest area of land under private protection in the world. These privately protected areas conserve some of Australia’s most threatened ecosystems; critically, they also connect other protected areas, allowing species to move between the areas to safer grounds.

The development and expansion of new protection approaches in the past two decades has allowed Australia to make significant progress towards the 30% goal. Now, to reach that mark – and beyond – we need to make sure that the diversity, health and resilience of our country’s ecosystems are included in conservation efforts.

It is a challenge but also a unique opportunity for Australia to build a network of protected areas that will prevent extinctions, mitigate climate change, deliver continent-wide recovery of environmental values and diversify regional economies. These initiatives need to be spread throughout a broad selection of representative habitats in all regions of the continent.

And 3 core principles must be at the centre of a nationwide approach to protecting Australia’s nature: recognising the rights and interests of First Nations people, ensuring the continued use of science and leveraging CAR (comprehensive, adequate and representative) principles to prioritise new protected areas. These should be integrated with a rapid federal investment in the National Reserve System throughout public, private and Indigenous protected areas.

Now is the time for action, not just rhetoric: The Australian Government must invest in these conservation initiatives and give them the momentum they deserve. To protect 30% of our landmass by 2030, Australia urgently needs adequate financing to go along with our existing science and expertise—starting with a $5 billion national fund to purchase land of high biodiversity and turn them into protected areas.

This and other financial commitments would position Australia to create a blueprint that sets the gold standard for global conservation efforts. For in the end, a promise without resources is merely a dream. Our planet, and the nature that sustains life, desperately needs these dreams to come true.

Michelle Grady leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ protecting Australia's nature project.

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