The ‘30 by 30’ enironmental commitment: economic costs and benefits

Dr Ross Jeffree, NPA State Councillor

Both the current and previous Federal governments have made verbal commitments to ’30 by 30’: the effective protection and conservation of at least 30% of the planet by 2030. This national commitment is in accord with international scientific consensus that 30% is a minimum target for land, sea and freshwater to protect and conserve key biodiversity values; including species at risk, high-biodiversity areas, key migration sites, spawning areas, and ecologically intact areas which protect large-scale ecological processes. (Adding in climate refugia and areas of high carbon density increases the area required to over 50%.)

Achieving effective protection and conservation of at least 30% of the planet by 2030 is also a critical step toward achieving the CBD’s (Convention on Biological Diversity) 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature, as well as post-2020 ambitions for biodiversity. IUCN has already adopted a resolution in 2016 that calls on IUCN State Members to designate at least 30% of each marine habitat in a network of highly protected marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs; also referred to here as “conserved areas”).

Moreover, the recently released 2021 State of the Australian Environment has identified the need for substantial and critical environmental investments to be made to arrest and repair the continental scale of environmental degradation.

With economic mindsets- the mindsets of most decision-makers in government- investments undertaken require a return through time to justify the expenditure. With regard to the ’30 by 30’ initiative there has been considerable recent effort by economists to determine the global economics of ’30 by 30’. It is timely to visit these emerging economic findings which are summarised below; but we also expect expanding effort in this area to support the economic case for the wisdom of such environmental and biodiversity investments up to 2030, i.e., watch this space!

The economics of 30 by 30

The following is summarised from the multi-authored report by Waldren et al. (2020)- Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications: Working paper analysing the economic implications of the proposed 30% target for areal protection in the draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The World Economic Forum now ranks biodiversity loss as a top-five risk to the global economy. Two immediate concerns are how much a 30% target might cost and whether it will cause economic losses to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. However, conservation areas also generate economic benefits (e.g., revenue from nature tourism and ecosystem services), making Protected Areas/Nature an economic sector in their own right. If some economic sectors benefit but others experience a loss, high-level policy makers need to know the net impact on the wider economy, as well as on individual sectors. The Waldren report, based on the work of over 100 economists/scientists, has analysed the global economic implications of a 30% Protected Area (PA) target for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and the PA/nature sector itself. (OECMs were only defined by the CBD in 2018, too recently to be economically modelled, but a qualitative treatment of them has been included).

Two analyses were conducted: a global financial one (concrete revenues and costs only); and a tropics-focused economic one (including non-monetary ecosystem service values), for multiple scenarios of how a 30% PA target might be implemented.

The financial analysis showed that expanding PAs to 30% would generate higher overall output (revenues) than non-expansion (an extra $64 billion-$454 billion per year by 2050). In the economic analysis, only a partial assessment was possible, focusing on forests and mangroves. For those biomes alone, the 30% target had an avoided-loss value of $170-$534 billion per year by 2050, largely reflecting the benefit of avoiding the flooding, climate change, soil loss and coastal storm-surge damage that occur when natural vegetation is removed. The value for all biomes would be higher.

Implementing the proposal would therefore make little initial difference to total (multi-sector) economic output, although a modest rise in gross output value is projected. The main immediate difference between expansion and non-expansion is therefore in broader economic/social values. Expansion outperforms non-expansion in mitigating the very large economic risks of climate change and biodiversity loss. The 30% target would also increase by 63%- 98% the area recognised as Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ land-based nature stewardship contribution (within appropriate rights and governance frameworks).

Economic growth in the PA/nature sector (at 4-6%) was also many times faster than the 1% growth expected in competing sectors. Marine expansion restores growth to fisheries (after a shock) but non-expansion leads to a mid-term contraction.

The annual investment needed globally for an expanded (30%) PA system is $103 – $178 billion. This figure includes $68 billion for the existing system, of which only $24.3 is currently spent. (Underfunded systems lose revenue, assets, carbon and biodiversity). Most of the investment need is in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These often have a competitive asset advantage in terms of natural areas, but they may need international support to capitalise on that opportunity. Otherwise, growing the PA sector could also entrench global economic inequalities. Benefits and costs also accrue to different stakeholders at smaller (e.g., local) scales, making welfare distribution a challenge that needs addressing.

A. Waldron, V. Adams, +110 authors (2020). Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications. DOI:10.13039/501100000780; Corpus ID: 2266

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