COP15 Montreal: ‘30x30 will create more militarised Protected Areas’

Fiore Longo, director of the French chapter of Survival International, details the disadvantages of 30x30 of the Global Diversity Framework

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Tuesday 13 December 2022

Tourists can pay money and go on safaris in these PAs, stay in hotels and do trophy hunting in certain areas. Photo: iStock.Tourists can pay money and go on safaris in these PAs, stay in hotels and do trophy hunting in certain areas. Photo: iStock.

The ongoing 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, is pushing for a 30x30 Target to protect and conserve at least 30 per cent of land and ocean biodiversity by 2030 to avoid a crisis.

But is 30x30 the answer to it? Survival International, an international non-government organisation that works for human rights, says this goal is misplaced as it will oust around 300 million indigenous people from their native lands and forests in the name of conservation.

They have called it the “biggest land grab in history,” which will rob millions of people of their land and resources.


In an interview with Down To Earth, Fiore Longo, director of the French chapter of Survival International, details the disadvantages of 30x30 of the Global Diversity Framework.

Edited excerpts:

Shuchita Jha: The rate of biodiversity destruction in the last 50 years has been alarmingly accelerated. Countries say that protecting 30 per cent of the Earth’s biodiversity is the only solution to avoid a crisis. Why, according to you, is 30x30 not a good idea?

Fiore Longo: The idea to set aside 30 per cent of the land and oceans and protect these areas sounds very good for the environment.

But this doesn’t mean 30 per cent of the land and biodiversity will be protected. It means that they will be turned into Protected Areas (PA).

You might think that extractive industries will not get into these areas, but this is not the case. The moment these areas are notified as PAs, indigenous and local communities will lose access to these areas. 

Some 300 million people are at a risk of losing their means of existence and around ninety per cent of these people live in low- or middle-income countries, according to a study by the University of Cambridge.

Also read: COP15 Montreal: Why are human rights in brackets in the post-2020 GBF, asks civil society

This type of fortress conservation, which we see in Asia and Africa, becomes a fortress for indigenous communities.

They will be restricted from accessing the resources, hunting and practising agriculture. On the contrary, the restrictions are not applicable to tourists and people with money.

Tourists can pay money and go on safaris in these PAs, stay in hotels and do trophy hunting in certain areas. Sometimes extractive industries are also allowed in these areas once the local people are evicted.

We have seen such situations in tiger reserves and national parks in Africa and Asia. Indigenous people living there for generations are being evicted unfairly and blamed for the destruction they have not caused. At the same time, these PAs welcome tourists with their polluting habits and noisy jeeps.

SJ: At COP10, parties decided to increase the coverage of protected areas by 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water habitats. Has this shown positive results in the last decade?

FJ: We have this unfair model of creating PAs that do not protect biodiversity. From an environmental and protection perspective, the destruction of biodiversity has never been more accelerated than in the last decade.

It has been catastrophic from a human perspective. It was not productive from an environmental perspective as well. We have been able to achieve the target by creating 15-16 per cent of the world into a protected area, but we never managed to stop wildlife loss. 

SJ: If the PAs are not really helpful in protecting biodiversity loss, why are so many countries and non-profits pushing for 30x30?

FJ: This idea of PAs arose in colonial times. It is still colonial and racist as it is based on the idea that the Western world has a superior understanding of handling these areas.

It also revolves around the belief that the West has the recipe for the salvation of nature and that the only way to protect nature is by separating it from humans.

These kinds of PAs have been around since the creation of the first national park in the United States, which is completely complicit with industrial development. 

The entire idea is, “let's set aside some lands where we can see some nice animals while at the same time we keep going on as business as usual.” 

And we have seen that the biggest conservation non-profits are promoting this idea because they are the ones getting the money to create more PAs in Asia and Africa.

They are all in partnership in one way or another with the most polluting companies in the world. The idea is not just racist and colonial; it is completely embedded in capitalism.

The idea is to set aside some land (in the name of conservation) so that the rest of the land is open for business. It is pushed by the people who want to focus on these things instead of tackling the real causes of biodiversity loss.

The European Union pushing for 30x30 is not a surprise because they just want to ensure that the European way of life remains unchanged.

SJ: India is advocating for other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM) instead of PAs to meet 30x30. Is this a better way? Will this allow indigenous people to keep their land?

FJ: No, I don’t think this is a better situation because, in indigenous territories, the communities have territorial rights without conditions. Their way of life is embedded in sustainability and reciprocity towards nature.

Here, they don’t have to prove their rights through maps, papers, or data. The OECMs, in fact, will undermine India’s Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA).

Under FRA, people from tribal and forest-dwelling communities do not have to show how well they protect the forests to claim rights over their ancestral lands.

The root of the need to enact this act was the environmental and social injustice caused by colonial laws, primarily the Indian Forest Act 1927, by not recognising the rights and responsibilities of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.

OECMs are more debatable as they have a link with how well the communities are conserving. In this case, the indigenous communities have to show, through a very long and complicated process, that they being there is good for the conservation of biodiversity.

Those areas will be recognised as OECM only if the communities put effort into conserving biodiversity. It is very dangerous as it undermines FRA. We need a target that recognises indigenous territories as the best mechanism to protect biodiversity.

If we recognise this, people will feel empowered and will automatically protect these areas better than they already are, as they depend on these forests for their survival.

They have spiritual connections to the land. They bury their ancestors there, take medicinal herbs, get forest produce and take care of the areas better. 

SJ: What, according to you, should be the solution? At COP15, they are talking about indigenous people’s rights and biodiversity loss. What should be done to address both goals?

FJ: If 30x30 goes forward, it will lead to the creation of PAs in indigenous lands, which are home to almost 80 per cent of the biodiversity on Earth. People living in these areas are the least responsible for the destruction of nature. So, if it is adopted, it will be the biggest land grab as they will create militarised PAs. 

The Global Biodiversity Framework addresses the indigenous people’s rights only in terms of consultation and participation, which is very different from the targets.

They want to put the entire language on the rights of indigenous people in a separate section called the ‘B.bis’, which will completely undermine the GBF. 

The Target 3 of the GBF, which talks about 30x30, does not address indigenous rights and territories. The PAs are not indigenous territories; it’s something different. Indigenous territories are lands belonging to indigenous people over which they have unconditional territorial rights.

We have scientific data showing that indigenous territories have less deforestation and more biodiversity than protected areas. 

So, why are we not talking about conserving biodiversity by protecting indigenous territories? Why do we need more PAs when we know that they don’t work? These indigenous territories are still not in the target and there is no mention of free, prior and informed consent.

This is important because most of these PAs have been created violently without local and indigenous communities’ consent. So, they should instead focus on indigenous territories, which is what we are also pushing for. 

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