OECM status for marine areas may degrade global biodiversity goals, Pew warns

Pew International Fisheries Project Director Andrew Clayton.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), adopted by the United Nations (UN) in December 2022, includes a “30x30” goal to protect 30 percent of Earth’s land and waters by 2030 in an attempt to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

Though other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) count toward the goal, The Pew Charitable Trusts has warned the study of the impact of such designated areas is still preliminary, and that it is unclear how greatly they contribute to biodiversity goals such as the 30x30 goal.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) created the concept of OECMs in 2010 to recognize areas that don’t have conservation as a primary purpose, but still deliver significant, long-term benefits for biodiversity under equitable governance and management. These include sacred sites, sensitive military locations, and long-term fishery closures – among other areas – and can be located in public, private, or communal lands, as well as Indigenous territories.

OECMs are allowing more countries to meet or approach their 30x30 goals quickly without having to institute additional conservation measures. For example, some experts argue that nearly half of U.S. marine waters meet OECM criteria due to fisheries management measures that are already in place.

“The OECM concept is tailor-made to help fisheries managers identify areas – other than protected areas – where their management brings long-term conservation of biodiversity that meets all the CBD criteria,” Pew International Fisheries Project Director Andrew Clayton told SeafoodSource. “Fisheries managers should be recognized for that contribution where all the criteria are met. However, this does not mean that areas with basic fisheries management are automatically ‘effectively conserved’ as defined by the CBD’s OECM criteria.”

Clayton said there is a risk in areas achieving OECM designation, but not meeting all criteria to count toward a 30x30 goal.

“OECMs that meet the CBD criteria and deliver long-term benefits for biodiversity and ecosystems should be counted toward the 30x30 goal,” Clayton said. “However, identifying areas that do not meet the CBD criteria as OECMs and reporting them to the WDPA [World Database on Protected Areas] could result in the world reaching the 30x30 goal with only marginal benefits to biodiversity. Declaring victory through accounting would not only fail to reverse biodiversity loss, but it could also undercut national and global conservation efforts.”

Clayton called on the nations that have signed onto the GBF to do the hard work of actually preserving biodiversity amid their lands and waters.

“The potential to achieve the aims of 30x30 and other CBD targets now sits in the hands of CBD member countries,” Clayton said in a Pew press release. “Their appetite to hold one another to account and reject bad-faith interpretations of the agreement – particularly at international organizations where they are members – will make or break global biodiversity conservation in the years to come.”

When it comes to the world’s oceans, one large area that has been assigned OECM status despite allowing practices that have led to biodiversity loss are the

 Photo courtesy of The Pew Charitable Trusts

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