The economic benefits of conserving 30 percent of the planet are substantial. But, we might have known that already. So we ask ourselves, what steps are we taking to advance a stronger movement toward policies, practices and financing to conserve nature? (Photos: MDDNR (left); Mark Boyd/MDDNR (right))
The coronavirus pandemic, a national reckoning with social justice, a massive “heat dome” soon overhead reminding us of the urgency of mitigating climate change – crisis on top of crisis. It leads us to look ever more closely for the good news, the silver linings, and especially the steps forward. 

Last week, we shared one set of suggested steps forward – The Race for Nature, a proposal for expanding private land conservation and supporting family farmers and foresters in the face of the pandemic. 

This week – a new report from the Campaign for Nature providing economic rationale for conservation. You may have seen headlines on this report, over 100 experts calculating for the first time the costs and economic benefits of conserving 30 percent of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. 

For those who have looked at various economic analyses of conservation over recent years, the report’s findings may seem a bit unsurprising. It’s good news for sure – “protecting 30% of the world’s land and ocean provides greater benefits than the status quo, both in terms of financial outcomes and non-monetary measures like ecosystem services. These benefits outweigh the costs by a factor of at least 5:1 … a conservative estimate because the report did not quantify all ecosystem services benefits.” 
The cost to protect 30% of our planet, ranging from about $103 to $178 billion, is not inconsequential. However, nature provides more than $125 trillion in benefits to humanity, global GDP is about $80 trillion, and the total global assets under management is about $125 trillion. In this context, the cost of creating a resilient, planetary safety net for all life on earth barely even registers as a statistical rounding error. The benefits to humanity are incalculable, and the cost of inaction is unthinkable. 
Dr. Jamison Ervin, Manager, Global Programme on Nature for Development, United Nations Development Programme (Study Co-author) 

There are more good economic findings in the report worth reviewing. But, overall it carries a message consistent with a wide range of economic studies at national and even local scales which have shown the benefits of conserving nature outweigh the opposite. 

In this context, it is striking to consider again a quote we shared last week from the Center for American Progress

“Yet the main barrier to achieving a 30×30 goal in the United States is not a lack of science, a dearth of scientists, or even a failure to communicate science to the broader public; it is in mobilizing political action to match the urgency of the nature crisis. America’s conservation leaders, community leaders, policymakers, and scientists need to encourage and participate in a national conversation about what role nature should play in society, how to share nature’s benefits more equally across all communities, and how to better conserve the country’s natural systems for the benefit of everyone.” (emphasis added) 

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership takes an inclusive approach to 30×30, counting protected nature – in terms of habitat, biodiversity, and wild spaces — and the protected outdoors – green spaces for people, food, scenery, history and recreation. 

So in our frame, how do we mobilize action – and the conversation — to match the urgency of the nature crisis? We return to posing a series of questions to ask ourselves, as individuals, organizations, businesses, and every unit of government – what steps are we taking to advance a stronger movement toward policies, practices and financing that

  • Protect a network of large natural areas and corridors sufficient to allow nature to respond to a changing climate and to support thriving populations of native wildlife?
  • Conserve headwater and riparian forests, large forest blocks, woodlots providing multiple values, and highly productive timber growing soils?
  • Protect productive farms and prime farmland from conversion?
  • Secure space for urban farming and locally supported agriculture?
  • Protect landscapes along designated trails, scenic rivers, and byways; at parks; and throughout state and national heritage areas, cultural landscapes, and historic districts?
  • Conserve, and enhance lands that support equitable public health for all, with an urgent focus on underserved communities?
  • Safeguard drinking water protection areas?
  • Provide neighborhood green spaces to enhance public physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health?
  • Ensure all people have access to wooded areas, parks, trails and/or public green spaces within a ten minute walk; and access along Chesapeake waterways within 30 minutes?
  • Right past environmental and cultural inequities to communities of color and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

In other words, how are we mobilizing action to place these values — central to the quality of human life — front and center in the policy and funding conversations ahead? 

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
National Park Service Chesapeake
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Conservancy

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is co-convened by: