Biden’s Historic Action on 30x30

The president’s executive order puts America on the path of protecting 30 percent of its land and 30 percent of its ocean areas by 2030.
Humpback whales swimming off the coast of Maui, Hawaii
Credit: Getty Images

The president’s executive order puts America on the path of protecting 30 percent of its land and 30 percent of its ocean areas by 2030.

After a drumbeat of headlines in recent years detailing nature’s decline, there’s very good news from the Biden administration, with the president pledging to put America on the path of protecting at least 30 percent of its land and 30 percent of its ocean areas by 2030 (30x30). This action is necessary to reverse nature’s decline, fight climate change, and secure the natural life support systems we depend on for clean air and water, food, and quality of life. And, if done right, fulfilling a 30x30 goal offers benefits beyond safeguarding and strengthening the natural foundations of our society. It should create more equitable access to nature, bring communities together to conserve our shared natural heritage, honor tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and strengthen our economy.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of protecting more of America’s—and the world’s—natural places. From the air we breathe that’s cleansed by vast forests and the water we drink that’s been filtered and carried by wetlands and rivers to the food we grow that’s pollinated by birds and bees and the seafood we catch from the bounty in our seas, to the ancestral homeland of Indigenous peoples, our land, freshwater, and ocean constitute a global natural life support system.

In addition, this life support system also plays a vital role in pulling planet-warming carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it away. Protecting 30 percent of America’s natural areas will help stabilize the climate, protect biodiversity, and give plants and wildlife a chance to adapt to the warming already baked into our current climate.

Today, these and the other benefits we derive from nature are in jeopardy as evidenced by this sobering figure released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: A million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, and of those million, more than 500,000 terrestrial species have insufficient habitat for long-term survival without habitat restoration. A problem hundreds of years in the making but accelerating like never before. The leading driver of nature’s decline on land is the conversion of wild lands for agriculture, development, and resource extraction. Oceans are hit by myriad threats and face increased pressure from new industries like energy development, aquaculture, and deep-sea mining. Increased commercial use means more stress on wildlife and habitats, and fewer havens for wildlife to sufficiently recover and thrive. These pressures on land and sea degrade the ability of our natural systems to build resilience against climate change and sequester carbon.

We need a fundamental course correction to our relationship with nature, and we need it now. Today’s announcement by the Biden administration boldly puts us on that path. 

Given the scale and scope of the challenges we face, 30x30 is a security deposit on a new relationship with nature that we must make to keep our global life support system in operation. Only by dedicating more areas to the purpose of their natural character—vibrant ecosystems thriving with abundant wildlife—will we secure clean water, clean air, healthy communities, and food supplies for future generations. That’s why it’s so important that President Biden has committed the nation to ensuring protections for at least 30% of our lands and waters.

What’s Next?

We now have a national call to action. Meeting the 30x30 goal will require coordination among multiple federal agencies, states, tribes, and communities. To ensure that 30x30 is more than a paper target and puts the United States on a path to meeting the target within nine years, the work must get off the ground as soon as possible. The American people are ready. Four out of five voters nationwide favor a plan to protect at least 30 percent of our land, ocean areas, and inland waters by 2030. A large majority of voters view the plan as reasonable, achievable, and good for the economy. And an overwhelming majority view it as good for plants, animals, fish, and wildlife.

The 30x30 plan should secure and strengthen our natural world through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative, and well-connected systems of protected areas. It’s essential that this work focus on increasing access to nature for all people, with an emphasis on disadvantaged communities and communities of color.

For too long, the costs and impacts of nature loss have fallen disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color. In this country, 74 percent of communities of color and 70 percent of low-income communities in the contiguous United States live in nature-deprived areas. Implementation of 30x30 should also center the rights, voices, and knowledge of Indigenous peoples, who have protected and managed the lands and waters for millennia, and affirm the Administration’s commitment to tribal sovereignty. 30x30 needs to mark the end of a history of the United States as a barrier to that remarkable stewardship and provide tribal communities with the funds and means to, if they wish, fulfill their vision and priorities for the stewardship of their natural and cultural resources. 

This effort must bring local communities together with the common purpose of identifying areas that can contribute to the national goal. And finally, we must recognize the need to create high-paying, locally based jobs for restoring and caring for the country’s natural heritage and identify funding mechanisms for that purpose.

The 30x30 goal is bold and forward-thinking. So let’s get started. Let’s protect at least 30 percent of our lands and inland waters and 30 percent of our ocean areas by 2030 to help secure the natural life support systems we depend on, combat the climate crisis, and stimulate the nurturing of our national soul.