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    Catchy numerical slogans seem rather irresistible to the community of Sustainaville. Whether simply a convenient mnemonic device or a subconscious attempt to (over)compensate for the inherent fuzziness of the field, I am sure you’ve noticed that there are quite a few of those going around. The Parisian ‘1.5 degrees’, for instance, might be currently under siege, yet the rumours of its imminent death seem somewhat exaggerated. The ‘Net 0’-school has plenty of acolytes, too, alongside some notable defectors. The EU, meanwhile, strains its fiscal muscles to get ‘Fit for 55’.

    Well, this week, another combination of numbers is trending in the news, ‘30×30’. Understandably so. After all, the commitment to protect and preserve at least 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030 is the hottest topic at the CBD COP15[1] that has just commenced. Yes, folks, the biodiversity summit is really happening this time! After waiting patiently for two years and abandoning all hope to visit the beautiful Yunnan province of China, the summit is finally underway, on a different continent yet featuring the same old ambitious plan. “We need a ‘Paris moment’ in Montreal,” urges professor Rockström, the famous director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. No doubt he is referring to the symmetrically appealing goal of ‘30×30’.

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    Of course, this target is neither brand new nor rebranded. It has steadily gained popularity since 2020, when first launched by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, aka the HAC. The ‘30×30’ target has already inspired more than a hundred countries to pledge allegiance to the worthy cause.

    Why exactly 30 by 30, though, I wonder. In fact, a growing body of scientific research suggests that half of the planet must be kept in a natural state to address the evil duo of biodiversity loss and climate change. However, the popular belief seems to be that 30 per cent is more realistic for the time being – a “necessary interim goal”, as they say. Perhaps the architects behind the new target are mindful of the dismal results achieved by the predecessor, the Aichi Targets from 2010. Upon reaching its deadline in 2020, that initiative failed to meet any of its rather less ambitious goals[2], despite being backed by 196 nations.

    “We have not chosen that 30% number at random,” assures Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at the opening ceremony in Montreal. “It is the critical threshold, according to the greatest scientists, to avoid the risk of extinction and also to ensure our food and economic security. Thirty per cent that is quite feasible,” he adds, alluding perhaps to the target’s true motivation. Another enthusiastic supporter of the initiative, Canada’s environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, who happens to be a former environmental activist, claims confidently that the 30% aim would be equivalent to the 1.5 degrees climate target.

    I do hope the Canadians are right and that ‘realistic’ and ‘feasible’ are not just euphemisms for ‘arbitrary’. Thirty per cent is, after all, at the lower end of the interval indicated by the latest IPCC assessment report on “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” as essential to halt biodiversity loss, build ecosystem resilience and tackle climate change by benefiting from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon.

    But, hey, let’s not get bogged down in debating whether the target is ambitious enough or not. 30 is just a number, after all. And if it helps activists and policymakers to drive the biodiversity agenda forward, I’m all for it. 30×30 times so!

    [1] In the interest of disambiguation, CBD COP15 stands for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
    [2] The Aichi targets stated that the area conserved should be at least 17% of land and 10% of sea.

    Image courtesy of Martin Reisch on Unsplash
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