Last month, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity met virtually to set global conservation goals for the next decade. Although the 196 signatories to the treaty did not meet the goals they set a decade ago, they nevertheless are moving to expand on those goals, most notably with a proposal to place 30 percent of the earth’s continents and oceans in protected areas by 2030. This “30 by 30” plan has been the subject of fierce argument, with some critics calling it an environmentalist pipe dream and a neocolonialist land grab that, by restricting the activities allowed in newly protected areas, could negatively affect as many as 300 million people, including many of the world’s poorest.
But many scientists also are concerned about what is perhaps a deeper problem, for both new and existing protected areas: As the planet continues to warm, many protected areas will become less and less suited to the types of organisms and ecosystems they were created to protect. “The idea of national parks as a place where you could draw a line around an area and not do much of anything but protect it from external threats, that biodiversity would persist there — that’s no longer an accurate portrayal,” says independent ecologist Carlos Carroll.