30x30 Sets Stage for Joint US-Canada Leadership

After four years of an administration selling off national treasures and Tribal homelands to the highest bidder, the U.S. is making an investment in nature that will benefit people across the U.S. and the world. Today, the Biden Administration heeded calls from scientists, issuing an executive order (EO) putting us on the path to protection of 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, a policy known globally as 30x30. This announcement places the U.S. in lockstep with Canada’s own 30x30 commitment, moving beyond dubious tree-planting schemes to create unprecedented, urgently needed opportunities to work with Indigenous communities to protect the forests, peatlands, and grasslands across North America that harbor our treasured biodiversity and safeguard the climate.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made clear, avoiding climate catastrophe requires not just an energy transition, but a transformation in how we use and value the natural world. Nature can provide one-third of the needed climate mitigation capacity needed to avoid exceeding international climate thresholds, and offers some of the most cost-effective solutions to climate change.

Forests, in particular, are vital to solving the dual climate and biodiversity crises. Since long before there were birds to nest in them, deer to rut on them, or humans to cut them down, forests have been regulating the climate, absorbing and storing carbon and shaping the world as we know it today. Even after centuries of industrial impacts they remain our most stalwart climate allies, absorbing one-third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions each year. Protecting them is a non-negotiable part of solving the climate crisis, in addition to the prevention of biodiversity collapse.

The Biden Administration’s 30x30 executive order breathes new life into these lungs of the earth, and creates new momentum around safeguarding forests, not just in the United States, but around the world—including just to our north in Canada.  

Canada’s Trudeau Government has likewise committed to 30x30 and has already made unprecedented investments in Indigenous-led protected areas. However, there is a troublingly large gulf between Canada’s commitment and the reality on the ground, as logging and other industries continue to erode remaining intact forests across the boreal and in the temperate forests of British Columbia. Each year, the logging industry clearcuts over a million acres of boreal forest, undermining Indigenous rights, threatening at-risk species, and jeopardizing the global climate. The logging industry has evaded full accountability for its climate impacts given significant shortcomings in how Canada reports logging emissions and a lack of regulation. Many provinces, such as Ontario, are even rolling back environmental protections and democratic oversights.  

President Biden’s executive order can signal to Canada that there is no more room for half-measures. Protecting nature for climate and biodiversity requires setting limits on short-sighted resource extraction and fully investing in our future.

President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau now have a key opportunity to collaborate to fulfill a meaningful vision of 30% protection and ensure that it is implemented in a way that centers Indigenous leadership and protects areas that will offer the greatest benefit to communities, public health, climate, and biodiversity. 

As a primary measure, the U.S. and Canada need to work together to place Indigenous-led protection at the forefront of their 30x30 implementation. Indigenous Peoples in both Canada and the U.S. have lived on and stewarded the land for millennia, and have, for decades, been leading the way toward a more sustainable future in the absence of insufficient government action. Yet all too often, Indigenous voices in both countries have been sidelined in decision making on their lands, and the two governments need to ensure that their 30x30 implementation honors Indigenous sovereignty and internationally recognized rights and invests in empowering community-led management. As Valérie Courtois, the Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, commented, “Indigenous Nations are at the forefront of managing and caring for lands and waters across the country. Partnerships between Indigenous Nations and Canada support this conservation leadership, and together we can meet our shared goals to protect nature and the climate.” The same holds true in the U.S., and this EO sets the stage for the U.S. to work with Canada to push forward ambitious, bilateral commitments to Indigenous leadership and respecting Indigenous self-determination.  

Boreal forest

The U.S. and Canada can also partner to protect shared, border-transcending natural treasures like the boreal forest, which spans across Canada and into Alaska, the prairie heartlands, and the temperate rainforests along the West Coast. These areas are key corridors for wildlife, including billions of migratory birds that share dual citizenship between the countries. Fully protecting these regions will require bilateral cooperation.  

In addition, Canada and the U.S. need to work together to build off 30x30 toward an even more robust natural climate solutions agenda that protects ecosystems’ critical role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. The Biden campaign committed to work with regional partners in the Americas to establish a framework to limit land-use emissions, and both countries need to ensure that their 30x30 commitments are accompanied by a full and accurate accounting and regulation of the impacts of forest degradation on the climate.  

As unchecked industrial expansion continues to erode the world’s remaining intact ecosystems, this executive order provides hope for a livable, sustainable, just future. 30x30 is a gift to present and future generations, a recognition that there are parts of our world too precious to lose to corporate profits. Now, it’s time for Canada and the U.S. to work together, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples on both sides of the border, to ensure this vision provides the maximum benefit to people, the climate, and the natural world. 

About the Authors

Jennifer Skene

Environmental Law Fellow, International Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.