BACKGROUND BRIEFING

#DearHumanity

Dear Humanity, World leaders are pushing a plan to turn 30% of Earth into Protected Areas by 2030. They say it will mitigate climate change, reduce wildlife loss, enhance biodiversity and so save our environment, but they're wrong. It will make things worse: it will destroy nature, and lead to the biggest land grab in history. Confused? We explain everything, in 28 simple steps:

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1. What’s the 30x30 plan about?

World leaders and big conservation NGOs are planning to turn 30% of the planet into Protected Areas by 2030. At the next UN biodiversity summit, this plan could be set in stone.

They say it’ll help solve biodiversity loss and climate change. It won’t. 

The plan has no scientific basis.

It completely ignores the rights of Indigenous peoples and other local communities.

It’ll be the biggest land grab in history, destroying the lives and livelihoods of those least responsible for environmental destruction. 

2. Who’s pushing for the 30x30 plan and why?


Conservation organizations, governments and corporations are all pushing the 30x30 plan, because:

- Big conservation organizations are set to receive billions from projects associated with the plan
- Polluting companies will be able to keep doing business as usual.
- Governments can claim they are taking action to protect the environment without taking the unpopular decisions that this will really need.

It’s a profit-making scheme, not an environmental fix.


3. Where will the money to implement the 30x30 plan come from?

The 30x30 plan will be paid for in two ways:

By us - donor governments will use our taxpayer money to fund new Protected Areas.
By selling carbon credits from Protected Areas, which will allow companies to keep on polluting.

This means conservation NGOs will make billions in profit, while companies can go on destroying the environment.


4. What’s the role of Big Conservation NGOs in the 30x30 plan?

Conservation NGOs like WWF and The Nature Conservancy are among the main promoters of the 30x30 plan. They’re lobbying governments to go ahead with it, and teaming up with the biggest-polluting corporations to greenwash them. 

Why? Because conservation NGOs are set to receive billions of dollars to oversee new projects associated with the plan.

They’re pushing ahead even though there’s plenty of evidence the plan won’t save the environment, and it will destroy Indigenous and local peoples’ lands and lives.


5. How have conservation NGOs responded when you’ve presented them with evidence of human rights abuses?

Silence: When we wrote to them highlighting human rights abuses they didn’t reply.

Denials and insults: When we publicized the abuses, we were accused of spreading false information; being “anti-nature;” or just doing it for publicity.

Excuses: When the proof became impossible to deny, conservationists said it’s only “a few bad apples.” Some even tried to hide the evidence of abuses.

Greenwashing: Today, many of them publicly claim to work with Indigenous peoples, but any reforms have proven to be just cosmetic, and nothing has changed on the ground for Indigenous peoples.

The response we didn’t get: Shock and surprise over what we documented; apologies for the crimes they fund; a genuine and effective effort to stop the abuses.

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6. What can I do about the 30x30 plan? 

Raise awareness: talk to friends and family about the plan. Everyone should know the truth about it and we must stop falling for false solutions! Use the hashtags #DearHumanity and #DecolonizeConservation to spread the word.

Use our activist kit and take online action.

Don’t support the 30x30 plan. Inform yourself before traveling abroad and don’t go to places where Indigenous peoples have been evicted or abused in the name of “conservation.”

Don’t support organizations pushing for 30x30. Call them out! This includes Conservation International, WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and more…

Join our movement to #DecolonizeConservation and stay tuned for more actions coming on March 2!

7. Why should I care about the 30% plan?


Because it will be disastrous for both biodiversity and humanity.

It won’t solve the most serious environmental problems. Instead, it will actually make them worse. And it diverts attention from the real causes of biodiversity loss and climate change: the exploitation of natural resources for profit and growing overconsumption, driven by the Global North. 

It allows the biggest polluters to continue destroying the planet, while stealing the lands and destroying the lives of Indigenous Peoples who are the best guardians of nature and the least responsible for the ecological crisis.

8. Climate change and biodiversity loss have gotten so bad, we must act now. So isn’t saving 30% better than nothing?


A false solution is worse than no solution: it diverts valuable energy and resources into something that creates the illusion that we’re acting when we’re not, rather than finding real solutions. 

It’s because time is running out that we urgently need to tackle the real driver of biodiversity destruction: the overconsumption and exploitation of natural resources for profit. The 30% plan doesn’t challenge this at all. 


9. If the problem with Protected Areas is abuse by rangers, couldn’t this just be sorted with training?


The problem goes much deeper than just “a few bad apples” – violence by rangers is very widespread. When a Protected Area is created, rangers are deployed to limit or deny local people’s access to their own land. They rule by fear.

And rangers shouldn’t be there in the first place! They’re the militarized enforcers of a land grab.

Rangers often get rewarded for “performance” based on how many arrests they make, so it’s not surprising that so many vulnerable and innocent people have been wrongfully arrested or abused. 

10. Do all Indigenous Peoples actually protect biodiversity? What about the ones who hunt? 


It’s no coincidence that 80% of biodiversity on Earth is found in Indigenous lands – it’s because they’ve managed and protected their environments for millennia. 

They have an intimate relationship with their land and a profound knowledge of it. Their land is everything. Often they have strict unwritten rules and taboos to help them manage it, and its resources, sustainably. 

The same is true for hunting practices. For example the Baka learn from an early age not to hunt young or female animals. Because Indigenous Peoples hunt for food, they know their own survival depends on healthy populations of wildlife.


11. Don’t Indigenous People sometimes over-exploit their resources because they no longer live a “traditional” lifestyle? 


Even if this may, theoretically, happen (because the theft of their land means they can no longer live self-sufficiently), violating their human rights is never justified.

Indigenous Peoples have rights because they’re human and because they’re Indigenous. None of these rights are conditional on how well they protect their environment (imagine if our human rights were only respected if we were good at, say, recycling!). 

Of course, Indigenous Peoples, like all of us, adapt to a changing world. But their ways of living are much more sustainable than ours – Indigenous Peoples currently live on and protect 80% of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. 

12. If we give Indigenous Peoples their lands, how can we be sure that they won’t sell them to destructive industries? 


It’s not a case of “giving” Indigenous Peoples their land, but of recognizing their rights to it. These rights are enshrined in international law and don’t come with conditions attached. 

Indigenous People are entitled to do what they want on their own land! However, study after study has shown that they’re the best conservationists – it’s no coincidence that 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found in their territories. 

Besides, they have a profound connection to their land and are far less likely to allow in industries such as logging and mining than when the land is controlled by governments and conservationists. 

13. Why does Survival want to stop 30x30? Can’t we just fix it and include Indigenous Peoples in the plan?

The 30x30 plan can’t be fixed because it’s based on fundamentally flawed ideas:

1. That Protected Areas work – they don’t. 

The number of Protected Areas has grown and grown in recent decades – at the same time as biodiversity has gone down and down.

They result in mass tourism, and human rights abuses against the best conservationists, Indigenous Peoples, who’ve been shown to protect their lands better than anyone else.  

2. That nature is best protected by emptying it of people – it’s not. 

The whole idea of “wilderness” is a colonial myth – almost all landscapes have been managed and shaped by people over millennia. People and nature are one, not separate.

3. That the promises of conservation organizations can be trusted – they can’t. 

The conservation industry has been promising that it will respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples for decades, but little has changed. WWF even drew up guidelines for this in 1996 – but later admitted they were just “aspirational.” 

Meanwhile evictions, tortures, rapes and killings in the name of conservation continue. 

You can’t “fix” a plan that’s based on such flawed thinking - you need to throw it out and start again. 

Start by recognizing the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and acknowledging that they’re the best conservationists. Protected Areas are almost always created at the cost of Indigenous land rights.

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14. Is Survival against all Protected Areas?


Not all Protected Areas are the same – there are two very different models. In Europe, for example, no national park could be established without taking into account local people’s needs, and there are almost no restrictions on entering or living in them. 

The second kind, which we oppose, typifies “fortress conservation,” and it’s the norm in Africa and Asia. It’s how National Parks were first created in the USA. Local and Indigenous people are abused, persecuted and pushed out by force, coercion or bribery. 

The best guardians of the land, once self-sufficient and with the lowest carbon footprint of any of us, are reduced to landless poverty. It’s a blatant injustice. To make matters worse, once the rightful owners are forced out, tourists and even extractive industries are often welcomed in. 

Why the difference between these two models? Because in Europe the authorities know they can’t just push people out. But in Africa and Asia conservation NGOs can get away with it – so they do.

15. Isn’t it better to have a Protected Area than nothing at all? If it wasn’t for Protected Areas, there’d be no forest left.


Creating Protected Areas gives us the illusion we’re doing something to protect the environment. But really we’re failing to tackle the true causes of environmental destruction, and the creation of Protected Areas destroys the people who live there by taking their lands from them and denying them access to it.

Yes, people live there! There’s no such a thing as “wilderness.” It’s the local and Indigenous communities who are best placed to protect these areas. The whole idea of Protected Areas is wrong, because often it views the land only as “nature,” rather than a lived and managed landscape in which people are a fundamental part. 

If it wasn’t for Indigenous Peoples, there’d be little forest left. Science shows us that deforestation rates are much lower on Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Their territories contain 80% of biodiversity and huge carbon stocks. The data is clear: recognizing Indigenous lands achieves conservation goals better than Protected Areas, for a fraction of the cost. 

16. Aren’t Indigenous territories basically the same thing as Protected Areas? Why can't Protected Areas just include Indigenous land?


There’s one huge difference: in Indigenous territories, the land rights of Indigenous peoples are recognized: it’s legally their land. 

Conversely, Protected Areas are almost always managed by government agencies and NGOs, and often exclude or restrict human activities, including everything Indigenous people do to feed their families, like hunting, growing crops, gathering and fishing. 

Vital ritual activities like burials and religious worship are also excluded or restricted. Rangers, supported by conservation NGOs, patrol the area and deny access to the land; and in many cases, commit atrocities against the local population. 


17. Aren't more Protected Areas good for Indigenous Peoples? What’s so bad about them?

Most Protected Areas have been created on Indigenous and local people’s lands without their consent.

The people are then evicted and lose their means of subsistence, bringing hunger, disease and social breakdown.

These Areas are then militarized. Across Africa and Asia, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are abused, tortured and killed by guards in Protected Areas. 

These guards are often supported by organizations like WWF and the WCS, and funded by European and US tax-payers’ money. 

The 30x30 plan will double the amount of land covered by Protected Areas – and is therefore likely to double the number of these crimes.

18. Shouldn’t Survival be fighting against logging and mining companies instead of conservation organizations?


Survival’s mission is to challenge those who abuse the rights of Indigenous Peoples and steal their land, whoever they are. This includes logging and extractive companies, but also conservation organizations. 

Organizations like WWF and the WCS have – for decades – been managing and supporting Protected Areas from which Indigenous Peoples have been thrown off their land, raped, tortured and killed. 

They’ve known about these abuses – often committed by guards they fund directly – for many years, but have done little to stop them. (Survival has been telling WWF, in letters and meetings, since 1991).

They also take money from (‘partner with”) the logging, oil and mining companies which are responsible for destroying what remains of Indigenous people’s lands outside Protected Areas.

Some logging companies have their own park rangers who also abuse local communities. 

In the Congo basin, big conservation NGOs never speak out against these companies. Instead they take money from them, or help greenwash them through schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council. 

This gives these companies credibility, and protects them from criticism – while doing little or nothing to actually improve their environmental performance. 

In the pursuit of profit, conservation organizations such as WWF have now become part of the problem, not the solution. 

Conservation on the ground is militarized, brutal and appropriating huge areas of Indigenous land. 

In many parts of the world, it is now the biggest problem Indigenous peoples face.


19. Poaching is a serious problem. Aren’t Protected Areas necessary to stop some species being wiped out?

It’s extremely rare that Indigenous Peoples overhunt or cause the extinction of species. Their lifestyles have been criminalized by conservationists. 

Those in charge of Protected Areas label Indigenous hunters and gatherers as “poachers” when they are simply hunting for food.

Hunting for subsistence is not the problem. Organized poaching is. 

But Protected Areas do little to stop this. On the contrary, with their means of survival eroded, it’s not surprising desperate local people are sometimes recruited by “organized” poachers. 

Often the rangers who are supposed to protect the wildlife are themselves involved in poaching. For example, a UN report confirmed that corruption, not Indigenous people, is at the heart of wildlife crime.

The effort and money put into combating poaching could be better spent on projects that aim to change buyers’ attitudes, reduce demand and tackle inequality, rather than militarization.

Between 2010 and 2016, 65% of the $1.3 billion spent by international donors on ending the illegal wildlife trade was directed towards more Protected Areas and law enforcement initiatives.

This compares with just 15% that went towards livelihood support for communities living near areas with high rates of poaching. 


20. Why will Protected Areas increase human suffering?
 

In many parts of the world Protected Areas are militarized and violent. They’re created without the consent of the Indigenous and local people who have lived there for generations. 

It’s a massive land grab in the name of conservation. 

The inhabitants of these territories are often illegally evicted from them. Then park rangers limit or deny them access to their own land, depriving them of their livelihoods and identity. Graves and sacred sites are also off-limits. 

But that’s not all. 

Rangers commit atrocities against the local population when they try to access their land to feed their families, or when they don’t want to abandon their homes in the forest: abuse, rape, torture and even killings are common. 

The 30x30 plan will double the amount of land covered by Protected Areas – and is therefore likely to double the number of these crimes. 

It stands to harm up to 300 million people – the very people who are least responsible for the climate and biodiversity crises. 

21. You say that Protected Areas have no effect on climate change - why?


Contrary to what some conservationists say, the potential for 'natural' ecosystems to help absorb climate-changing gasses in the coming years is actually very small compared to the damage emissions from burning fossil fuels is doing. 

Climate change knows no boundaries. It doesn’t care if there’s a Protected Area – it will wreak havoc on it just as it would anywhere else. 

For example, many forests and other ecosystems are already becoming more prone to wildfires. 

The urgent priority must be to reduce the use of fossil fuels. 

Over the past two decades, 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of global climate emissions. 

To really address climate change, corporations need to STOP polluting and extracting resources for profit. More Protected Areas are not the solution.

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22. Is it true that Protected Areas are generally poor at preventing wildlife loss? Aren’t they good for the environment? 

Protected Areas, especially in Africa, are often not as “protected” as you might think. 

Once the areas are emptied of their former inhabitants, often using violence, the land is controlled by local elites or conservation NGOs who can then establish relationships with resource exploiters. Very often mass tourism, trophy hunting or extractive industries are welcomed in.

The only target that was almost achieved from 2010-2020 in the previous global action plan on biodiversity, was to increase Protected Areas on Earth by 17%. 

Yet the conservation industry itself admits that biodiversity has declined even faster during the same period. 

A 2019 study of more than 12,000 Protected Areas across 152 countries found that most had done nothing to reduce human pressure on wildlife over the last 15 years.

Inside many the pressure has actually worsened compared to unprotected areas. By evicting Indigenous Peoples, the best conservationists are prevented from protecting nature.

Finally, the creation of a Protected Area is often seen as a green light to destroy the landscape outside it: in some cases, mining or logging companies buy the silence of big conservation NGOs by funding their Protected Areas or other conservation projects, or setting up units of park rangers.


23. So what alternative to the 30x30 plan is Survival proposing?


Evidence proves that the best way to protect biodiversity is to respect the land rights of Indigenous Peoples – the best conservationists. 

We need a totally new conservation model – one that has Indigenous Peoples and their rights at its heart; that doesn’t see ‘nature’ as devoid of people; and that fights the real causes of environmental destruction – over-consumption and the exploitation of natural resources for profit driven by the Global North.

More about our alternative model here: https://www.ourlandournature.org/manifesto 


24. Organizations like the Bezos Earth Fund and WWF also say that Indigenous peoples are key partners to protect biodiversity.

 

They’ve been making claims like this for decades. Some even have policies that commit them to respecting Indigenous rights. But it’s important to look at what they do, not what they say.

They continue to support “fortress conservation,” and to fund guards who kill, rape and torture Indigenous people.


25. Is there evidence that Indigenous Peoples will be evicted in the 30x30 plan? Does the plan say which lands will be transformed into Protected Areas?

Although the 30x30 plan doesn’t specify that Indigenous Peoples will be evicted, nor which lands will be transformed into Protected Areas, it’s clear that it will have a devastating impact on Indigenous people. 

Why? 80% of the most biodiverse places on Earth are found on Indigenous Peoples’ lands. 

So it’s inevitable that under the 30x30 plan – whose fundamental purpose is to protect areas of importance for biodiversity – a significant proportion of the new Protected Areas will target Indigenous people’s land, especially in the Global South.

A recent academic paper estimates that the 30x30 plan could directly displace and dispossess 300 million people, with many more indirectly affected.

What’s more, the dominant conservation model across Africa and Asia is “fortress conservation” – and its popularity among government and conservation organizations shows no sign of diminishing. 

This type of conservation is highly militarized and involves either the eviction of Indigenous Peoples from their lands, or such severe restrictions on their daily lives that they’re unable to feed their families. They also lose access to vital areas such as their sacred sites and burial grounds.


26. Is the 30x30 plan based on science?


No – 30% is a figure which was plucked from thin air. It’s a marketing ploy,  based on very weak evidence. One of the lead authors of a widely referenced academic paper that calls for Protected Areas to increase to 30% said: “There’s no scientific basis for 30%. It’s arbitrary.”

In fact, a new study for the Convention on Biological Diversity by conservation scientists shows that what’s more important is tackling the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, such as over-consumption, and subsidies for destructive agriculture. 

On the other hand, there’s plenty of scientific evidence that Indigenous lands are the best sanctuaries for biodiversity.


27. What do you mean when you say Protected Areas are “born in brutality”? 

“Conservation” as practiced today has a dark history. 

In the 19th century, the USA created the world’s first national parks – on lands stolen from Native Americans. Many US national parks forced out the very peoples who had created these wildlife-rich “wilderness” landscapes –  into landlessness and poverty. 

This model of conservation, known as “fortress conservation,” was exported around the world, and especially to Africa and Asia – where wealthy trophy hunters who wanted to stop “their” game being taken by Indigenous People and poor commercial hunters, created “game reserves” that were in reality private hunting parks. 

The idea of “wilderness” – of “nature” untouched by humans – lies at the very heart of the whole history and ethos of conservation. 

But this is a racist and colonialist fallacy, which totally fails to recognize the role of Indigenous Peoples in shaping and nurturing their own territories. 

Lands were considered empty, so they could be taken. It’s not a coincidence that many prominent conservationists embraced the most extreme racist theories of their time. 

But far from being devoid of human influence, the world’s most famous “wildernesses” were and are home to Indigenous Peoples. 

Today, “fortress conservation” is the dominant model in many parts of the world and still involves the illegal eviction of Indigenous and local people from their ancestral homelands.

28. Don’t Indigenous Peoples benefit from Protected Areas, and the jobs as rangers or tourist guides that they create?

No job offer can make up for the loss of land and livelihood that a Protected Area brings. If people have been kicked off their land illegally, they’re not in a position to freely choose how they want to live and sustain themselves. 

Once-independent, self-sufficient and resilient peoples are often turned by the conservation industry into a “servant sector” entirely dependent on tourism.

If you want to know more, visit our Big Green Lie page.

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