Almost a third of the world’s land and oceans, from peat bogs to coral reefs, is set to be protected by the end of the decade under a landmark global treaty for nature.
The deal, agreed in a late-night finale at the United Nations COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal, Canada, sets out four global goals and 23 targets all designed to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss” by 2030.
Alongside the so-called 30 by 30 goal, the agreement also includes targets for countries to slash subsidies deemed harmful to nature – such as those supporting unsustainable agriculture or fisheries – by $500 billion per year by 2030, as well as a promise that higher-income nations will, by the end of the decade, provide at least $30 billion a year in biodiversity financing.
At the close of the meeting, COP15 president Huang Runqiu said the agreement marked a “historic moment” in global efforts to save nature, calling the deal “a package we can all be proud of”.
In a move almost unprecedented for UN conventions, countries reached agreement on the deal hours before the scheduled end of the summit on 19 November.
This early finish belies the tense nature of the two-week negotiations, which saw repeated walkouts by countries unhappy with progress on core issues.
Yet with the summit already delayed by two years due to covid-19, and with delegates keen to get home in time for Christmas, attendees worked late into the night in a sprint finish to find agreement on key areas.
A compromise text, released by China on 18 November in its role as president of the talks, formed the basis for the final agreement. The gavel was brought down on the deal shortly after 3:30am, despite objections from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There was a breakthrough on one of the most contentious items on the agenda, with countries agreeing to establish a new mechanism to share the benefits of products built using genetic data from the world’s microbes, animals and plants.
On biodiversity finance, another key sticking point, nations will aim to mobilise $200 billion a year in public and private funding by the end of the decade, with higher-income countries contributing at least $30 billion a year.
Alongside the targeted reduction in harmful subsidies, those streams would, in theory, be enough to close the $700 billion-a-year gap in financing needed to deliver the aims of the final COP15 package.
Countries also agreed to formally recognise the rights of Indigenous peoples and their role in delivering the 30 by 30 target, a key victory that campaigners said would help to reduce the risk of governments evicting people from their land to hit the goal.
“We have taken a great step forward in history today,” Canada’s environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, told the assembled delegates.
But despite the progress made, many will leave Montreal deeply unhappy with the level of ambition in the agreement.
A goal to reduce the rate of species extinction tenfold by 2050 represents less ambition than was agreed by the UN 10 years ago, warned environmental group WWF.
Meanwhile, a target to halve the global footprint of consumption was relegated to a call for people to be “encouraged and enabled to make sustainable consumption choices”.
There are also serious concerns that there isn’t enough in the agreement to guarantee countries will live up to their promises.
None of the previous global biodiversity goals – set in Aichi, Japan, in 2010 – were fully achieved. Going into COP15, it was promised that this next round of ambition would see measurable, quantifiable goals in place and a clear mechanism to hold countries to account for failing to meet them.
But observers say the final deal is weak on ensuring accountability, with vaguely worded targets lacking clear, quantifiable outcomes, which will make it more difficult to track nations’ progress.
“The key lesson from Aichi was that measurable targets are incredibly important to see specific progress,” Guido Broekhoven at WWF told a press conference on 18 November, before the final agreement was adopted. “Parties took that lesson on board when they started to develop this new framework. Unfortunately, they seem to have abandoned that approach now.”
A “ratchet” mechanism, designed to require countries to increase their ambition if a global review showed they weren’t on track to meet the agreement, was significantly weakened in the final stages of talks.
Ioannis Agapakis at environmental law firm ClientEarth says the package represents an “incremental improvement” compared with the Aichi goals, but still doesn’t go far enough in ensuring nations live up to their promises.
Nevertheless, countries cheered the achievement of the global deal, likening it to nature’s equivalent of a climate treaty. “I think we have enough to declare it the Paris Agreement for nature,” says Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s environment minister.
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