A Global Deal For Nature: Guiding principles, milestones, and targets

Authors are E. Dinerstein1,*, C. Vynne1, E. Sala2, A. R. Joshi3, S. Fernando1, T. E. Lovejoy4, J. Mayorga2,5, D. Olson6, G. P. Asner7, J. E. M. Baillie2, N. D. Burgess8, K. Burkart9, R. F. Noss10, Y. P. Zhang11, A. Baccini12, T. Birch13, N. Hahn1,14, L. N. Joppa15 and E. Wikramanayake16

* – 1RESOLVE, Washington, DC, USA, 2National Geographic Society, Washington, DC, USA, 3University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA, 4George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA, 5University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA, 6Zoological Society of London, London, UK, 7Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA, 8UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK, 9Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 10Florida Institute for Conservation Science, Chuluota, FL, USA, 11State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650223, China, 12Woods Hole Research Center, Woods Hole, MA, USA, 13Google, Mountain View, CA, USA, 14Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA, 15Microsoft, Redmond, WA, USA, 16Environmental Foundation Ltd., Colombo, Sri Lanka

SOURCE: Science Advances, April 19, 2019: Vol. 5, no. 4, eaaw2869, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw2869

ABSTRACT for The Global Deal for Nature

The Global Deal for Nature (GDN) is a time-bound, science-driven plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Pairing the GDN and the Paris Climate Agreement would avoid catastrophic climate change, conserve species, and secure essential ecosystem services. New findings give urgency to this union: Less than half of the terrestrial realm is intact, yet conserving all native ecosystems—coupled with energy transition measures—will be required to remain below a 1.5°C rise in average global temperature.

The GDN targets 30% of Earth to be formally protected and an additional 20% designated as climate stabilization areas, by 2030, to stay below 1.5°C. We highlight the 67% of terrestrial ecoregions that can meet 30% protection, thereby reducing extinction threats and carbon emissions from natural reservoirs. Freshwater and marine targets included here extend the GDN to all realms and provide a pathway to ensuring a more livable biosphere.

INTRODUCTION to The Global Deal for Nature

Nature conservation efforts, like climate change policies, are being reassessed in the midst of a planetary emergency. Climate concerns rightly prompted the 2015 Paris Agreement, which has facilitated coordinated global action not only among governments but also among companies, cities, and citizens. Research since then suggests that efforts to stabilize the climate and avoid the undesirable outcomes of >1.5°C warming will require a rapid reduction in land conversion and a moratorium by about 2035.

The most logical path to avoid the approaching crisis is maintaining and restoring at least 50% of the Earth’s land area as intact natural ecosystems, in combination with energy transition measures. Those measures by themselves will likely be insufficient and must be augmented by restoration to create negative emissions to offset the likely clearing and release of greenhouse gases that will occur until a 2035 moratorium can be reached.

Natural ecosystems are key to maintaining human prosperity in a warming world and 65% of Paris Agreement signatories have committed to restoring or conserving ecosystems. Intact forests, and especially tropical forests, sequester twice as much carbon as planted monocultures. These findings make forest conservation a critical approach to combat global warming. Because about two-thirds of all species on Earth are found in natural forests, maintaining intact forest is vital to prevent mass extinction.

However, carbon sequestration and storage extends far beyond rainforests: Peatlands, tundra, mangroves, and ancient grasslands are also important carbon storehouses and conserve distinct assemblages of plants and animals. Further, the importance of intact habitats extends to the freshwater and marine realms, with studies pointing to least disturbed wetlands and coastal habitats being superior in their ability to store carbon when compared with more disturbed sites.

Opportunities to address both climate change and the extinction crisis are time bound. Climate models show that we are approaching a tipping point: If current trends in habitat conversion and emissions do not peak by 2030, then it will become impossible to remain below 1.5°C. Similarly, if current land conversion rates, poaching of large animals, and other threats are not markedly slowed or halted in the next 10 years, “points of no return” will be reached for multiple ecosystems and species.

It has become clear that beyond 1.5°C, the biology of the planet becomes gravely threatened because ecosystems literally begin to unravel. Degradation of the natural environment also diminishes quality of life, threatens public health, and triggers human displacement because of lost access to clean drinking water, reduced irrigation of important subsistence crops, and exacerbation of climate-related storm and drought events. These occurrences will become increasingly worse without substantial action over the next few years. Additionally, human migrations, triggered by climate change–induced droughts and sea-level rise in combination with extreme weather events, could displace more than 100 million people by 2050, mostly in the southern hemisphere.

A companion pact to the Paris Agreement—a Global Deal for Nature (GDN)—could help ensure that climate targets are met while preventing species extinctions and the rapid erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the terrestrial, freshwater, and marine realms. The concept of a GDN as a policy mechanism emerged from an earlier study restricted to protecting biodiversity in the terrestrial realm. We expand that perspective to the freshwater and marine realms while simultaneously lending support to an alternative pathway to remaining below 1.5°C that relies heavily on aggressive conservation of remaining habitats.

This approach not only safeguards biodiversity but also is the cheapest and fastest alternative for addressing climate change and is not beholden to developing carbon removal technologies unlikely to be effective or to scale in the time-bound nature of the current twin crises. Here, we offer a policy framework based on scientific guidelines that could pair nature and climate deals, be mutually reinforcing, and recommend time-bound milestones and targets. We identify specific threats and drivers of biodiversity loss, and discuss costs of implementation of a GDN. Finally, we introduce breakthrough technologies for monitoring progress.

DISCUSSION of The Global Deal for Nature

The Paris Agreement offers a useful template for a GDN because it sets global targets, provides a model for financial support, and supports bottom-up efforts. All nations have signed on to this agreement. But the Paris Agreement is only a half-deal; it will not alone save the diversity of life on Earth or conserve ecosystem services upon which humanity depends. It is also reliant on natural climate solutions that require bolstering outside of the Paris Agreement to ensure that these natural approaches can contribute to its success. Yet, land-based sequestration efforts receive only about 2.5% of climate mitigation dollars.

At the same time that climate scientists were arriving at a single numerical target for maintaining Earth’s atmosphere at safe limits, biodiversity scientists identified multiple targets for the required habitats to conserve the rest of life on Earth. But to communicate effectively, as in the Paris Agreement, these many needs could be encompassed within a single target: protect at least half of Earth by 2050 and ensure that these areas are connected. The evidence arising since these calls were made clearly demonstrate that while we may be able to afford to wait to formally designate 50% protected in nature reserves, we need to fast-track the protection and restoration of all natural habitat by 2030.

A GDN that will ensure that we have at least 50% intact natural habitats by 2030 is the only path that will enable a climate-resilient future and is one that will offer a myriad of other benefits. Since the crucial role of intact, diverse systems has also been demonstrated to be essential for carbon storage the GDN will need to emphasize mechanisms for protecting intactness both inside and outside of protected areas (e.g. in CSAs/OECMs) well before 2050.

Tallis and colleagues demonstrated that with existing technologies and large-scale adoption of common conservation approaches (e.g., protected areas, renewable energy, sustainable fisheries management, and regenerative agriculture), it would be possible to advance a desired future of multiple economic and environmental objectives (including 50% of each biome intact, with the exception of temperate grasslands). This spatial coexistence is possible even with the prospects of feeding and supporting the material needs of a growing human population. The success of proposals to boost food production while protecting biodiversity will likely depend on our success in addressing human population growth, however, and our willingness to marshal financial resources accordingly.

Gross costs for nature conservation measures across half the Earth could be $100 billion per year, but the international community currently spends $4 billion to $10 billion per year on conservation. Extending the area-based targets in the post-2020 strategic plan for biodiversity to 30% by 2030 will likely require direct involvement of the private sector. In key sectors—fishing, forestry, agriculture, and insurance—corporations may be able to align their financial returns directly to reaching targets recommended by the GDN. However, the typical approach to conservation planning does not involve the real (net) costs because the direct benefits of conservation and the averted costs of inaction are not included in the calculations. Barbier and colleagues showed that potential direct benefits from biodiversity conservation for various sectors range from increasing annual profits by $53 billion in the seafood industry to $4300 billion in the insurance industry.

In addition, marine reserves can provide more economic benefits from tourism than fishing in many locations worldwide. Financial investments of even 10 to 20% of potential benefits from biodiversity conservation from three key industries could make up as much of one-third of the commitment needed to implement a GDN. A GDN may appeal to a broader set of nonstate actors, including corporations and local government entities. The solutions could be implemented in ways that have direct positive benefits to local or regional communities and especially indigenous peoples. Land-based jobs, food security, green space, access to wilderness, and ecosystem services are benefits that deliver advantages to rural and urban dwellers alike.

Complex life has existed on Earth for about 550 million years, and it is now threatened with the sixth mass extinction. If we fail to change course, it will take millions of years for Earth to recover an equivalent spectrum of biodiversity. Future generations of people will live in a biologically impoverished world. Adopting a GDN and the milestones and targets presented here would better allow humanity to develop a vibrant, low-impact economy and conserve intact ecosystems, all while leaving space for nature. Linking the GDN and the Paris Agreement could solve the two major challenges facing the biosphere and all the species within it and result in a return to safe operating space for humanity.


Legal Brief: FERC’s Flaws Endanger Communities of Color in Atlantic Coast Pipeline Path

PRESS RELEASE. Contact: Jake Thompson, jthompson@nrdc.org, (202) 289-2387, Fabiola Nunez, fnunez@nrdc.org, (646) 889-1405; Elizabeth Heyd, eheyd@nrdc.org, (202) 289-2424

WASHINGTON (April 15, 2019) – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission broke the law in two key ways that discounted and endangered African American and American Indian communities in Virginia and North Carolina in approving the proposed Atlantic Coast gas pipeline. That’s what environmental, civil rights, faith-based, and other groups contend in a brief filed in federal court.

“The Atlantic Coast gas project is controversial for many reasons—it’s costly, unneeded, and could endanger drinking water and pollute other natural resources while fueling climate change,” said Montina Cole, senior attorney in the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Tragically, it’s also a prime example of FERC effectively facilitating environmental injustice. We’re calling on the court to right this wrong and help protect communities of color in Virginia and North Carolina from environmental hazard and harm.”

NRDC and nine other groups filed an amicus brief on April 12 challenging FERC’s approval of the Atlantic Coast pipeline on environmental justice grounds before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The groups want the court to declare FERC’s approval of the pipeline null and void or order FERC to conduct a new environmental justice review.

The other signers are: Center for Earth Ethics; Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice; North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign; Repairers of the Breach; Satchidananda Ashram – Yogaville; Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church; Virginia Interfaith Power & Light; Virginia State Conference NAACP; and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

The brief details how FERC failed to serve the public interest in evaluating, and approving, construction of the proposed 600-mile, $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast project. Dominion Energy is seeking to build the pipeline to transport gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

“If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conducted a thorough public interest analysis, as it should, a balanced and accurate environmental justice review would further demonstrate what is already known: that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed to meet our energy needs, is environmentally unjust, would cause permanent environmental damage, and should be rejected,” said William Barber III, Co-Chair, Ecological Devastation Committee, North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign.

FERC’s most egregious error was relying on a deeply flawed methodology to identify environmental justice communities affected by the Atlantic Coast project and failing to address the adverse impacts of the project.

First, FERC relied on three large census tracts to analyze the potential impact of a planned gas compressor station for the pipeline in Virginia’s Buckingham County. Because the census tracts covered 500 square miles and included largely white rural areas, FERC found no environmental justice communities were near the compressor site.

That’s even though the compressor site would be in Union Hill—a largely African American community founded by freed slaves. Through its flawed analysis, which included another error that ruled out identifying an environmental justice community, FERC essentially erased or buried Union Hill.

The end result: FERC cooked its analysis and found no harm would come from the air pollution generated by the industrial compressor facility on a community of people who would be disproportionately impacted by air pollution. A map of this issue with further explanation is here.

Second, FERC lumped all “minorities” together, which led it to overlook the fact that 25 percent of North Carolina’s American Indians, about 50,000 people, live along the Atlantic Coast route. The end outcome: FERC offered no analysis of the impacts of the pipeline on American Indians.

Because FERC failed to identify these communities of color in Virginia and North Carolina, it didn’t analyze the health and environmental risks they face from the pipeline and its compressor stations, the groups charge. It’s well documented that pollution emitted from compressor stations exacerbates health issues like asthma and cancer risks that disproportionally affect communities of color.

Incredibly, even when FERC did identify a minority community—like the one near another planned compressor site in North Carolina—it dismissed the disproportionate health risks, saying that pollution levels would be within legal limits. But that doesn’t constitute an analysis of the impact on the community—it’s a dodge. Further, the Environmental Protection Agency has found the pollutants present health risks at any level, the groups note in their brief.

Others who signed onto the brief weighed in on the issue:

>>> Rev. Paul Wilson, Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church said: “Dominion is following a playbook utility companies often use: ram a risky project through a marginalized community, like Union Hill, because they can’t stop it. They treated us as though we didn’t even exist for a while. But we refused to be treated that way. Our community will keep on refusing to be treated as though we don’t matter, because we are strong, we are united, and we are convinced that this this pipeline, and its compressor station, pose a risk to us that we should not have to bear.”

>>> Rev. Kevin Chandler, President, Virginia State Conference NAACP, said: “The Virginia State Conference NAACP continues to stand strongly in opposition to any project that presents disproportionate impact to the health and safety of African-American, communities of color, and low-income communities. African-Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than Caucasian Americans and are 75 percent more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American. Furthermore, the pollution emitted by compressor stations, like the one proposed for Union Hill, is linked to increased risk of cancer and respiratory disorders, not to mention the pollution the compressor station will cause to our lands and water bodies. This project should never have been approved. Now is a golden opportunity to right a wrong, and protect our air, water, lands, and people.”

>>> Karenna Gore, Director, Center for Earth Ethics, said: “Every American has an inalienable right to breathe clean air, drink safe water, be protected from poisons and live free from environmental injustice. We are honored to stand with the too-often marginalized people on the frontlines of ecological devastation, like those in Union Hill and Indigenous families along the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, who are fighting for their rights, and our future.”

>>> Kendal Crawford, Director, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, said: “This is what environmental injustice looks like, and Virginia is not alone. It’s sobering, clear and disturbing to see that fossil fuel infrastructure—from power plants to pipelines—is too often placed in communities of color across our country, and FERC is guilty of promoting this environmental injustice. It shouldn’t be allowed to continue operating this way, putting people at grave risk, if we are striving towards a just society.”

>>> Cecil Corbin-Mark, Director of Policy Initiatives, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said: “Low-income and people of color are more likely to live closer to sources of pollution, leading to unfair health outcomes. We hope that the court will undo FERC’s too-hasty approval of the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the compressor facility that would emit unhealthy air pollution in Union Hill. Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and we need action in our most vulnerable communities to ensure that right extends to all Americans.”

The groups argue that in its environmental justice review, FERC violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). They hope the court agrees and decides to take action against FERC.

The legal brief is here.

A blog on the issue by NRDC’s Montina Cole is here.

A map showing one way FERC evaluated whether an environmental justice community exists near the proposed pipeline’s compressor facility in Virginia is here.

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