Opinion > Columns
Asean must step up to protect 30 percent of Earth's land and ocean

AS unprecedented changes and pressing issues continue to impact both nature and the biodiversity of the planet, a growing global effort is under way to protect 30 percent of the Earth's land and oceans - the 30x30 Wyss Campaign for Nature championed by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (HAC), an intergovernmental coalition of more than 60 countries around the world co-chaired by Costa Rica, France and the UK. It calls on other nations, especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), to commit to this definite target for the benefit of the environment, climate, economy and society.

Evidence and research have shown that Southeast Asia has one of the highest deforestation rates and one of the most severe cases of biodiversity loss despite harboring 15 percent of the world's tropical forests and 70 percent of the global biodiversity. Asean is home to about 18 percent of the world's most endangered species, such as the Philippine eagle, the helmeted hornbill in Thailand and the saola (Asian unicorn) in Malaysia, among many diverse and rare species found only within the region. Notwithstanding the fact that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in Asean are deemed as three of the world's 18 megadiverse countries, high expectations and consistent commitments are demanded of Asean to meet the 30x30 target, which unfortunately is not the case now.

As of this moment, only Cambodia has committed to this target as the first HAC member from the Asean region. The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei and Singapore should all follow suit and other neighboring Asian members such as Japan, Pakistan and the Maldives. Dr. Tony Laviña, a former environment undersecretary, explains that such hesitation to commit to the 30x30 target is based more on the fear of unknown, of what committing to this target might mean for economies and livelihoods as well as how it will impact specific sectors like logging, mining and palm oil industries. Such fraught discussions are not new to Southeast Asia in terms of balancing economic development and nature conservation, given the fact that countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are the top oil palm- producing countries in the world, and the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos have their own vested interests in the mining industry. The possibility of lobbying against the 30x30 target out of fear of the impact on such operations cannot be ruled out. However, in consideration of the terms of these operations and economies, an independent study prepared by more than 100 economists and experts have found that meeting the 30 percent target will generate financial and ecosystem services benefits at least five times the cost.

The overwhelming scientific evidence and economic data of conserving and protecting 30 percent of the Earth's land and oceans are already there - even providing added urgent benefits as means to mitigate climate change and carbon emissions, preventing future pandemics, increasing fisheries production, and advancing indigenous rights. 'The targets are achievable. There are nine years left until 2030. We do know what to do and the interventions are not rocket science,' says Laviña.

The negative impacts and effects of biodiversity loss and climate change are already past the doorstep of Asean as shown by the devastating typhoons and disasters that claim the hundreds of lives and livelihoods of Southeast Asians. All the more reason that Asean must hasten its pace and step up as progress in committing to these targets have been utterly slow. Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, the ambassador and science advisor to the Campaign for Nature says, 'Protecting at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030 is a timely and important action to defend and improve the health of our planet, our economies, and ourselves.'

There is no other time than today for Asean to commit to the 30x30 target - for this is not just about a campaign for nature, but a campaign for the lives of all Southeast Asian people and beyond.

Read more of the 30x30 Wyss Campaign for Nature: https://www.wysscampaign.org/goal

Email: jgbmejia@gmail.com