The Biden administration must lead the U.S. in reversing the biodiversity crisis at this pivotal moment
The world is facing a biodiversity crisis. In the coming decades, a million of the Earth’s species face the possibility of extinction. Even species that are not yet on the brink have faced huge population declines. This crisis threatens not only the plants and animals that we know and love, but all of us. Our fate is inextricably linked with the ecosystems that the world’s species depend on, and this week world leaders agreed to take action.
After the world failed to meet the internationally agreed upon targets for biodiversity set over a decade ago, the 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework negotiations became a pivotal moment for our planet and the web of life. When the pandemic struck, the Convention on Biological Diversity negotiations were one of many important things that had to be put off for a time. Negotiators from countries around the world finally came together over the past two weeks to hash out language drafted over the last several years for global targets to conserve biodiversity, including protecting 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, managing the remaining 70% of the planet to avoid losing areas of high importance to biodiversity, and ensuring that industry discloses biodiversity risks and impacts.
U.S. delegates on the ground at the negotiations in Montréal engaged with other countries and civil society around the need for the United States to play a critical role in biodiversity protection, despite not being a signatory to the convention and therefore not an official part of these negotiations. At this pivotal moment, the Biden administration has the opportunity to take meaningful action around biodiversity conservation in the next two years, ahead of the next presidential election.
First and foremost, the Biden administration still has a responsibility to reverse harmful changes made to Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations by the previous administration. Despite a commitment to review those regulations, which are key to biodiversity conservation, the administration has yet to act. It is imperative that new regulations reversing all of the harmful changes made by President Trump be advanced immediately to ensure they are completed by the end of President Biden’s first term. It is time for bold action to protect and strengthen the ESA for its next 50 years.
In addition, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides unprecedented opportunities to restore and protect ecosystems and to ensure we are fighting the biodiversity and climate crises together. For example, the IRA directs the federal government to pursue protections for carbon rich forests in order to meet our climate emission goals. That same action will provide significant protections for biodiversity in our forests and contribute to protecting 30% of habitats.
There are other examples at agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where IRA funds can support the recovery of our most imperiled species, the restoration of key ecosystems, and habitat protections. These funds also provide the opportunity to help meet this administration’s Justice40 commitment to direct 40% of climate, clean energy, transportation, and other infrastructure investment benefits to disadvantaged communities.
The Biden administration recently committed to tribal consultation and the inclusion of Indigenous and Traditional Ecological Knowledge in research, policy, and decision-making. The administration also plans to continue increasing tribal management and stewardship of federal lands and waters. Any effort to protect biodiversity must follow the lead of the Indigenous communities who have stewarded these lands for generations.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at the beginning of the negotiations in Montréal, “We are treating nature like a toilet, and ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy” and we need to take action “that beats back the biodiversity apocalypse by urgently tackling its drivers — land and sea-use change, over exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive nonnative species.”
With President Biden’s commitments to restore the Endangered Species Act, protect 30% of our land and waters by 2030, create new protections for mature and old growth forests, and the unprecedented resources provided in the IRA, the Biden administration has every tool it needs to make significant progress in fighting the biodiversity crisis in the United States in the next two years and meeting the global targets that are now in place.
Based in Washington, D.C., Addie is the legislative director for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice.
The Biodiversity Defense Program fights to reshape our relationship to lands, water, and wildlife everywhere by confronting the major drivers of the decline in nature, including habitat destruction and over-exploitation of wildlife.