The Environment

Protecting Biodiversity Supports Global Stability and Sustainable Development

February 18, 2020  • Madeleine K. Albright

Our planet stands on the brink of an environmental crisis. In the last three decades, the human population has increased by more than two billion people, global temperatures have continued to rise, and the effects of our changing climate have been manifested in melting polar ice caps, increasingly powerful storms, and raging fires from Australia to California. According to a groundbreaking UN report, the current rate of extinction is two to three times higher than the average rate over the past ten million years. As a result, up to one million species now stand threatened.

Twenty-seven years ago, in my capacity as US Ambassador to the United Nations, I was honored to sign a landmark conservation treaty known as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The treaty recognized that one of the most effective ways to prevent loss of biodiversity is to protect habitats and set aside space for natural systems to recover and thrive. Unfortunately, the world is currently falling far short of its commitments.

During a recent gathering of the Aspen Ministers Forum in Vienna, we took time to examine these environmental challenges and the threats they pose to global stability and human well-being. In particular, we looked ahead to the next conference of parties to the biodiversity convention and recognized the importance of a new global movement that is calling on this body to adopt a target of protecting at least 30 percent of the Earth’s surface—land and ocean—by 2030.

This movement is grounded in a broad coalition that includes youth, business leaders, indigenous people, and representatives from the developing world, among others. Today, I am joining their call along with 22 of my former foreign minister colleagues.

In a statement being issued today, our group notes that the marine environment deserves special attention, not only because it covers 70 percent of our planet but because people the world over depend on the ocean for oxygen, food, and the maintenance of a livable climate. Significant progress in recent years means that about 8 percent of the global ocean is currently protected, though less than half of that benefits from strong restrictions and enforcement, and this is still short of the 10 percent target by 2020 which was called for in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Protecting 30 percent of the global ocean, and managing all marine resources in a sustainable manner, must be a top international priority.

My former foreign minister colleagues and I believe that the world has a moral imperative to collaborate on strong actions to mitigate and adapt to the current climate change and biodiversity crisis. Ambitious targets for conservation of land and ocean ecosystems are vital components of the solution. I am proud to join them in calling on leaders to support a conservation target of at least 30 percent in order to save our planet.

Humanity sits on the precipice of irreversible loss of biodiversity and a climate crisis that imperils our future. The world must act boldly—and it must act now.

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