US politics complicates bid to protect nature

By Shannon Kelleher

It’s been a month since the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) ended with a historic international agreement aimed at expanding efforts to protect and preserve land, water and ecosystems around the globe.

Now the more than 190 countries that approved the ambitious plan to protect 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030 – among other goals- are faced with how to turn their promises into political realities.

In the United States, efforts to counteract the extinction crisis must contend with a unique set of challenges. Not only did the US sit on the sidelines at COP15, declining to join in the agreement, but newly strengthened Republican forces in Congress signal that progress on protecting nature won’t come easy.

Last year, Republican congressmembers introduced the “30 x 30 Termination Act,” which would overturn a Biden Administration’s conservation plan very similar to a target in the Global Biodiversity Framework adopted at COP15. Republicans call the plan a “land grab.” While the act has so far failed to pass, Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado plans to reintroduce it now that Republicans control the US House of Representatives.

The situation at the federal level has environmental advocates worried.

“We’re not playing at the international level and we’re not taking [the extinction crisis] seriously on our own soil,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

But even as politics threaten to hold conservation progress captive at the national scale, states, tribes, and local communities across the US are ramping up their own conservation efforts to confront the nation’s extinction crisis.