Why 30×30 would be the worst possible outcome of COP15
The plan to turn 30% of the earth into Protected Areas is based on a deeply unscientific and racist logic.
On my first field trip as a researcher for Survival International, the global movement for Indigenous peoples, I met a man called Bharat. A member of the Baiga tribe in Central India, he had been evicted from his home and separated from the forest he loved, the tigers he held sacred, the plants that healed him, and the community to which he belonged. He was distraught at what lay in store for the lands his people had looked after for generations; it is with good reason that 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found in Indigenous territories.
“We’re the protectors of the forest,” Bharat said in his clear quiet voice. “If we don’t save it, what will happen? If we abandon it, who will protect it?”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Baiga had not been violently removed by some insatiable multinational corporation. Rather, they had been evicted in the seemingly benign interests of “conservation”. “Experts” had claimed that Indian tigers need vast swathes of “untouched” land to survive, and that people must be therefore denied access to these spaces. Or – more accurately – certain people.
As the Baiga came to terms with their eviction from their ancestral lands, tourists flew in from all corners of the world to stay in luxury hotels, roar around in gas-guzzling jeeps, and take photos. So. Many. Photos. The Baiga, with their sacred connections to land and their negligible ecological footprint, had essentially been forced from their homes to create an enormous zoo.
Bharat’s experience, I soon learnt, is the tip of the iceberg. From the Congo rainforest to the savannahs of Tanzania, from the mountains of Nepal to the arid lands of Kenya, the protection of animals has served as a pretext to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their land. Communities are violently removed, and armed park rangers – financed by conservation organisations headquartered in Europe and the US – take their place. If Indigenous people try to hunt to feed their families or practice rituals in what was once their land, they risk being abused, tortured, raped, or killed.
Protect and exploit at COP15
From 7-19 December, officials from across the world are meeting in Montreal for COP15, the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is deeply worrying that at the heart of their plans to save the planet lies the 30% initiative, a commitment to create even more national parks and animal reserves.
This mainstream approach to conservation is based on “Fortress Conservation”, a model imposed in Africa and Asia during colonial times. It is founded on the racist idea that Indigenous people are primitive, that their knowledge is mere superstition, and they do not know how to take care of their environments – that it’s best left to white people to decide what’s best.
Today, this attitude is no longer explicitly condoned, but it is still very much alive in many conservation organisations. These bodies and the mainstream media still describe landscapes that have been shaped and nourished by Indigenous peoples for millennia as “untouched” or “wild” and portray the people that live on them as “encroachers” or “poachers”.
Yet scientific data proves the contrary: world famous “natural” environments like Yellowstone, the Amazon and Serengeti are the ancestral homelands of millions of Indigenous people who have cared for and protected these lands for generations. In the Lion King, little Simba wasn’t just hanging out in “wilderness”; the inspiration for the movie’s setting was the former home of the Maasai, a pastoralist tribe, who have been evicted to make room for a national park.
When we start unravelling the conservation myth, we don’t only discover the racist attempts to render invisible the role of Indigenous peoples in nurturing and stewarding their own territories. There is something else. By blaming local communities for environmental destruction, governments and corporations can stick to business as usual outside the “Protected Areas”. Fencing off a bit of nature can allow them to suggest that progress is being made but without doing anything to tackle the real causes of environmental destruction: the exploitation of natural resources for profit and growing overconsumption, driven by the Global North.
This is why the plan at COP15 to make 30% of the earth into Protected Areas by 2030 (“30×30”) is a dangerous distraction. Creating more national parks by driving out Indigenous communities won’t do anything to protect biodiversity, but will mean more human rights abuses and land grabs.
Studies have shown that the 30×30 plan could affect the lands and livelihoods of 300 million people, the ones least responsible for environmental destruction. As it stands today as COP15 begins, the plan would be the biggest land grab in history. No wonder the idea is supported by the most contaminating and destructive corporations in the world, like Unilever, Nestlé and Shell, amongst others. With the world distracted by a dangerous plan for 30% of the earth, they can continue to exploit the remaining 70% as usual.
But if the 30% plan isn’t a good idea, what do we have left? A growing body of scientific evidence shows that lands managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities are more effective than Protected Areas in conserving biodiversity. Indigenous peoples know very well that nature is not something separate from humans, something we can “conserve” on one side while destroying somewhere else. We are one. As Bharat put it, “people and tigers can live together in the same space”.
Despite what marketing experts with their catchy slogans want us to believe, there is no miracle cure to save the planet. There is no one easy solution. Nevertheless, some of the answers are already there, held by Indigenous peoples who have resisted, and continue to resist, countless attacks on their lands and life. Maybe, for once, we should listen and learn.
A version of this article was originally published in Spanish in El Diario Argentina.
I totally agree with the article, even in the most so-called progressive environmental campaigns, they don’t take into account the needs and the rights of the indigenous communities.
The Language and concepts need to change, around the issues of climate change and indigenous people must be part of the discourse in creating solutions for humanity and the world.
There is also in intersectional aspect where class is an issue for the working class whose interest are in at times in conflict with the indigenous societies., and that need to be solved too.
I’ve rarely seen a more biased and falsely based article. The argument of “racism” in the 30×30 initiative is patently false, as ALL current international efforts towards better Protected Area coverage highlight the importance of indigenous peoples and local communities.
“Coincidentally” this argument plays well in favor of the devastation mafias, which want to continue destroying the planet at the expense of the well-being of these same communities.
It is high time the “conventional” methods of conservation and management of landscapes are integrated in the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) of managing landscapes and its resources. The so called “primitive” systems have proven to be the most effective means of conservation compared to the conventional.
This site apparently has a fascist policy of not publishing comments criticizing biased, false argument articles such as this. What a shame.
I withdraw, with thanks, my comment about the criticism not being published.
YES Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) need to be incorporated into govts’ future-forward plans to reverse damages done & restore Nature’s regenerative powers – in every corner of the globe.
It should be obvious that the major changes / revisions need to be applied immediately to the most destructive & rapacious activities – the worst culprits already known: BigAg, BigOil & deforestation. Allowing those industries to continue their ecocidal extraction unabated — & unchanged — virtually guarantees global failure..
(& enacting changes to high-biodiversity, well-functioning natural ecosystems is obvsly counter-productive!)
“No need to ‘fix’ what ain’t broke” – to loosely quote practical wisdom fastest-declining natural features most barren/ depleted/ polluted zones where Nature’s lifeforms no longer habituate
Allowing #BizAsUsual to continue destroying 70% of #biodiversity is a woeful failure of #COP15, whose purpose was to reverse & revive Nature’s critical functions/ habitats destroyed by industries.
Kicking the last remaining successful stewards off their high-functioning zones of abundance is, clearly, the dumbest & most arrogant action whitey has come up with yet. Extinction is the most probable outcome now – more than ever. SHAME.
This piece seems to be entirely assertion. Even those doing the asserting remain unknown.