People living in three of the world's most biodiversity-rich nations in Southeast Asia strongly back efforts to protect 30% of the planet's land and oceans by 2030, according to a survey published on Thursday.
The online poll of more than 3,000 people living in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines found that almost all - 96% in Malaysia, 98% in Indonesia and 95% in the Philippines - supported a proposed "30x30" nature protection goal.
Just slightly lower numbers - 84% of Malaysians, 94% of Indonesians and 85% of Filipinos - wanted their governments to do so as well - something they have not yet done, found the researched conducted this month by polling company Vase.ai and commissioned by consultancy Atri Advisory.
It asked questions about the central goal of a planned new global nature treaty that hopes to curb climate change and the loss of plant and animal species.
Zakri Abdul Hamid, chairman of Atri Advisory and an advisor to the U.S.-based Campaign for Nature, which is calling on world leaders to back the pledge, said the poll results were "amazing and a breath of fresh air".
Deforestation rates have fallen in recent years and "countries in SE Asia still have a high percentage of pristine forests in their territories," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Protecting those avoids "a series of negative impacts, including accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss," Hamid added.
Improving protection of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, is seen as vital to maintaining the ecosystems on which humans depend, and to limiting global warming to internationally agreed targets.
The 30x30 goal is part of a draft global treaty to safeguard plants, animals and ecosystems, due to be finalised in May at the COP15 nature summit in the Chinese city of Kunming.
A coalition of more than 80 countries have already backed the 30x30 pledge, and in-person negotiations on the nature treaty are due to resume next month in Geneva, Switzerland.
"There is strong scientific evidence showing that the 30x30 target is the minimum amount of protections needed globally," said Hamid, urging countries to "strike a better balance between development and conservation".
Southeast Asian nations cover just 3% of the Earth's surface but are home to three of the world's 17 "megadiverse" countries - Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines - identified by conservationists as being the richest in species.
To date, Cambodia is the only nation in the region to have signed up to the 30x30 goal.
"Southeast Asia is one of the few biodiversity hotspots in the world, but the region also happens to be the quietest in the Kunming process," said Li Shuo, a policy advisor at Greenpeace China and observer of the nature pact discussions.
HOP ON BOARD
The survey found that 80% of Malaysian respondents, 92% of Indonesians and 95% of Filipinos said they were either extremely or very concerned about the biodiversity crisis.
In addition, 87% of Malaysian polled, 93% of Indonesians and 91% of Filipinos said they were highly or somewhat aware of talks on a global nature pact.
Linda Krueger, director of biodiversity at The Nature Conservancy, said she believed the governments of the three nations polled wanted to see how the new pact comes together before committing to any one element.
Developing nations often rely on their natural resources - such as palm oil, mining and timber - to bolster their economies, especially after being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As well, vested interests of politicians can be a hindrance to conservation efforts, environmentalists said.
A delay in Southeast Asian nations backing the 30x30 target could also be a tactic to secure more funding from richer countries to invest in nature, they added.
But "Southeast Asian country support for the final agreement will be essential," Krueger said.
"I hope and expect Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will hop on board when the time is right," she added.