UN 2030 conservation plan could dispossess 300 million people

July 20, 2020


A new UN drive to increase global protected areas could lead to severe human rights violations and cause irreversible social harm if not backed by much stronger guarantees of the rights of indigenous people and other local communities, the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) warns today.

In October, the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) is set to agree on a new target to place at least 30 percent of the earth’s surface into conservation status by 2030. The ’30 x 30’ target could double the current protected land area over the coming decade. [1]

However, based on a paper published in the journal Nature on the areas of ecological importance most likely to be put forward as protected areas, RFUK estimates the plan could displace or dispossess up to 300 million people. [2]

And a new map story published today shows that forest communities in Africa' Congo Basin are particularly at risk. [3]

Concerns about the human cost of the plan are growing as nature protection in regions such as the Africa’s Congo Basin and South Asia has become increasingly militarized in recent years with communities’ forcibly displaced to make way for protected areas and ubiquitous reports of human rights violations by heavily-armed anti-poaching agents. [4]

RFUK’s new MappingForRights platform reveals the extent of community-managed forests in Africa that could be threatened by further conservation land grabs. More than a thousand maps on the website produced by communities show how they are already being squeezed between industrial concessions and strictly protected areas. [5]

Research has also cast doubts over whether any increase in these kinds of protected areas will arrest the rapid decline in biodiversity with typically heavy-handed enforcement turning local people against conservation efforts. [6]

The plan could also hasten environmental destruction elsewhere with many of the world’s most polluting companies promoting controversial nature offset schemes that could be used to count towards the 30 percent target. [7]

Joe Eisen, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, said, “While bold commitments are certainly needed to tackle climate and biodiversity emergencies, this drive could mean that some of the world’s poorest and least responsible for these crises are yet again having to foot the bill for inaction in the Global North. The CBD needs to act on the growing evidence that the best way to achieve climate justice and protect natural forests is to entrust them to indigenous peoples and local communities who live in and depend on them.”


[1] The Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), adopted in 1992 and ratified by 192 States, is seen as the key document regarding sustainable development and provides the overarching international policy framework for conservation. Parties to the CBD are set to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework in October. The draft agenda includes the objective to protect at least 30 percent of all land and seas by 2030, a near doubling of the current target of 17 percent (Aichi target 11).

It states that the 30 percent target can be achieved through “protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs, that is other than conventional protected areas). However, we also know from experience that despite provisions in current CBD framework to include OECMs in global conservation targets, strict conservation regimes have remained the default choice in the Global South and in the Congo Basin specifically.

[2] Schleicher, J., Zaehringer, J.G., Fastré, C. et al. ‘Protecting half of the planet could directly affect over one billion people’. Nat Sustain 2, 1094–1096 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0423-y

[3] CBD drive to place 30 percent of the world under protected status by 2030 could dispossess 300 million.

[4] See, for example, https://www.buzzfeed.com/tag/world-wildlife-fund

https://cbca.mappingforrights.org/ (please register to access full datasets).

[6] See, for example, https:/www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/media.ashx/protected-areas-in-the-congo-basin-failing-both-people-and-diversity-english.pdf

[7] See, for example,  https://redd-monitor.org/tag/natural-climate-solutions/

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