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President Biden’s Important 30x30 Environmental Policy Goal

Environment Policy Brief #127 | By: Tim Loftus | September 16, 2021

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Policy Summary

President Biden wasted no time in making clear his position on climate change. One week after Inauguration Day last January, an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad was issued that, among other things, “… encourage broad participation in the goal of conserving 30 percent of our American lands and water by 2030.”

In the first of two parts, Executive Order 14008 places the climate crisis at the center of foreign policy and national security. International efforts are to be collaborative and multilateral, comprehensive, and ambitious in ways that both recognize the current threats and the trajectory of consequences if insufficient action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The second part is focused on the home-front where the executive order promises a “government-wide approach” to the crisis at hand. In short, this approach brings the considerable workforce, financing and spending power, and influence of federal government actions, to bear on the matter at the heart of the policy.

In addition to supporting climate change adaptation efforts and clean energy goals, the 30×30 policy goal aims to support biodiversity, now in grave decline from the sixth extinction event underway on Earth. The President’s executive order represents the first-of-its-kind goal of coordinated and proactive stewardship of nature in our country. In a follow-up report to the newly formed National Climate Task Force and titled “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” the emphasis on the role and importance of nature in our collective health, well-being, and prosperity – in short, our way of life – is repeated and unmistakable. And the 30×30 policy goal is deemed essential for the stewardship of nature called for. With both the policy and first report, coauthored by the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and the Council on Environmental Quality, an inclusive and practical roadmap is laid out for achieving the goal.     

The 30×30 policy goal is also poised to address inequitable access to the outdoors that people of color and those of lower income are too often faced with. The data make clear that disadvantaged segments of American society commonly lack access to clean air, clean water, and access to nature. Thus, the 30×30 goal offers a timely acknowledgment of interrelated and urgent issues that pose a threat to life as we have known it to be.

Policy Analysis

Federal leadership to mitigate climate change (i.e., reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and slow down or halt the disappearance of nature has arrived and not a moment too soon. We the American people have ten years to take action and achieve results. Beginning in 2022, annual reports will be made available by various government entities to assess our progress. And the good news is the 30×30 policy goal is guided by eight core principles that are practical, common-sense, and seemingly noncontroversial. Among them are a commitment to a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservation, support for locally-led and locally-designed conservation efforts, support for the priorities of tribal nations, and respect for private-property rights with support for the stewardship efforts provided voluntarily by private landowners.

According to the Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, Gap Analysis Project, approximately 13 percent of land in the U.S. is currently protected (i.e., assigned to GAP Status Codes 1 and 2.) While not “starting from scratch,” there remains much work to do to achieve the policy goal.

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Several states (e.g., California, Nevada, Maine) are declaring their own complementary goal. Last month, for example, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico issued Executive Order 2021-052, “Protecting New Mexico’s Lands, Watersheds, Wildlife, and Natural Heritage” that sets the goal of having at least 30 percent (30%) of all lands in New Mexico conserved by 2030, with an additional twenty percent (20%) designated as climate stabilization areas. New Mexico like most western states features above-average biodiversity, a relatively low population density, and a considerable base of public land. Furthermore, the state’s outdoor economy supports $1.2 billion in income, over 33,000 jobs, and attracts 15.2 million visitors a year according to the preamble in the executive order. Governor Lujan Grisham makes clear that private working lands are threatened by climate change too and have equal opportunity to voluntarily participate in ways that work for all parties involved.   

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It’s also worth noting that conservation efforts in the USA that are guided by this new policy goal, are not occurring in a vacuum. Similar efforts have been underway globally as guided by Biodiversity Target 11 of the Aichi Convention established for the decade ending in 2020. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are a component of a revised and updated strategic plan to conserve biodiversity across the globe. The international Convention on Biological Diversity continues to build on the plan with its “Sharm El-Sheikh to Kunming Action Agenda for Nature and People” and is an important global corollary to new actions in America that have been catalyzed by President Biden’s executive order. 

Finally, the policy goal of 30×30 is supported by policy-makers like city mayors to policy shapers including nongovernmental organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife. The momentum already generated by Executive Order 14008 is encouraging and will need to be sustained to achieve the policy goal.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Center for Western Priorities. 2021. Road to 30: A Bold Vision for Conserving 30% of America. THE ROAD TO 30 (accessed September 16, 2021)

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2021. PRESS RELEASE: CBD Secretariat’s new Action Agenda platform fosters “whole-of-society approach” to showcase commitments and actions from non-state actors to put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. pr-2021-08-18-actionagenda-en.pdf (cbd.int) (accessed September 16, 2021)

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2020. Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Aichi Biodiversity Targets (cbd.int) (accessed September 16, 2021)

Defenders of Wildlife. 2020. Getting to 30X30: Guidelines for Decision-Makers. Getting to 30×30: Guidelines for Decision-makers | Defenders of Wildlife (accessed September 16, 2021)

Kolbert, Elizabeth. 2014. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York, NY: Picador. 319 p.

State of New Mexico. 2021. Executive Order 2021-052: Protecting New Mexico’s Lands, Watersheds, Wildlife, and Natural Heritage E0-2021-052-30-by-30.pdf (nmwild.org) (accessed September 16, 2021)

The White House. 2021. Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad | The White House (accessed September 16, 2021)

U.S. Dept. of Interior, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, and Council on Environmental Quality. 2021. Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful.  Report: Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021 (doi.gov) (accessed September 16, 2021)

U.S. Geological Society. 2021. Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) 2.1 Summary Statistics by Public Access CategoryProtected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) 2.1 Summary Statistics by Public Access Category – ScienceBase-Catalog (accessed September 16, 2021)

U.S. Geological Society. 2021.Analysis of Updated USGS Database Finds Increase in America’s Lands and Waters Managed for Biodiversity. Analysis of Updated USGS Database Finds Increase in America’s Lands and Waters Managed for Biodiversity (accessed September 20, 2021)

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