Countries agree to protect 30 per cent of land and sea, slash environmentally harmful subsidies, and ramp up financing for nature restoration and protection
History was made this morning in a conference room in Montreal, after world governments adopted the most ambitious international commitment on biodiversity conservation ever seen, pledging to protect 30 per cent of the Earth by the end of the decade.
The new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework commits countries to deliver “urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss” so as to “put nature on a pathway to recovery” by 2030.
The deal was adopted by nearly 200 countries in a plenary that kicked off at 3am on Monday morning, more than seven hours after the meeting’s scheduled start time. A lengthy row over the best way to finance the landmark package of measures resulted in significant delays and left some negotiators disappointed in the final outcome.
But the initial response from green groups was broadly positive, with observers hailing an agreement that should significantly ramp up pressure on governments to strengthen their nature protection policies.
“We have taken a great step forward in history today,” said Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s climate and environment minister, minutes after COP15 President Huang Runqiu gavelled through the deal. He noted the deal was testament to China and Canada’s ability to set aside their differences and work together.
For his part, Huang said the deal marked the end of a four year journey towards negotiating a global framework that would put nature on a path to recovery, for the benefit of all people.
Jubilation among bleary-eyed delegates as the gavel came down was quickly tempered by several countries’ objection on the manner the deal was approved, with critics slamming the COP15 President’s decision to ignore an objection raised by the Democratic Republic of the Congo on resource mobilisation and financial flows.
Representatives from Uganda and Cameroon joined the DRC in criticising the President’s hastily-made decision on the conference floor, with Uganda warning the adoption risked becoming “a fraud” and represented a “total disregard of the rules of procedure” and Cameroon characterising Huang’s move as “a force of hand” that undermined the spirit of the convention and its commitment to multilateralism. The DRC, meanwhile, said it would be making a formal objection over the manner in which the agreement was adopted.
However, the legal advisor for the Convention on Biological Diversity said the President’s move had been valid, because the intervention had not been designated as a formal objection, clearing the way for the plenary to be brought to an end.
After weeks of wrangling over the best way to finance efforts to deliver on the new 2030 goals, countries have agreed to the formation of a new biodiversity fund, to sit within the UN’s existing Global Environment Facility, that will pool development aid, private sector money, philanthropic donations, and funds raised through the use of digital sequence information of genetic resources. Moreover, rich countries have committed to increase international aid for biodiversity to $20bn annually by 2025, rising to $30bn by 2030, so as to help countries in the Global South with their efforts to conserve the world’s remaining biodiversity ‘hotspots’, which are largely clustered in developing economies.
The historic package adopted in Montreal brings to a close more than four years of gruelling negotiations on how to create targets that drive effective action on nature protection, after the last set of goals – the Aichi Targets, agreed by governments at COP10 in Japan – were largely missed. The vast majority of world governments have signed the deal, with the only exceptions being the US and Holy See, which are not parties to the UN biodivesity convention.
COP15 was originally scheduled to take place in Kunming, China in October 2020, but the talks were delayed four times due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a bid to prevent yet another delay, organisers split the conference into two parts and moved the second part to Montreal, where the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is headquartered.
Many of the targets set out in the new nature pact directly relate to business and could have a significant impact on regulatory frameworks and economic development.
Plans for major subsidy reform is a key element of the deal, with countries pledging to “eliminate, phase out or reform” harmful subsidies, reducing them by at least $500bn a year. If delivered as promised the reforms could have huge implications for the agricultural and extractive industries in particular, which routinely take advantage of generous subsidies that result in destruction and damage to the natural world.
The agreement also includes a commitment from governments to take legal, administrative and policy measures to “encourage and enable” businesses to regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their impacts on biodiversity and introduce “requirements” on larger and multinational businesses to report on the nature-related risks they are facing. However, calls from some business groups for the text to demand ‘mandatory’ disclosure of nature-related risks from corporates appear to have been resisted.
The deal broadly replicates the first draft decision of the text, which was published by China’s Presidency on Sunday morning. But final text includes stronger language on managing extinction risks and halting human-induced extinction of known threatened species. However, demands for a numerical target to work towards when tackling extinction rates were rejected.
Green groups praised the agreement’s overall mission statement and headline goals to protect 30 per cent of the Earth and mobilise $200bn from public and private sources annually for nature by 2030. They also welcomed the recognition of Indigenous and traditional territories, and explicit references to respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.
But campaigners said the deal is undermined by the underpowered nature of its sub-targets and relatively weak implementation mechanisms. Significant concerns were raised around the lack of specific and measurable targets and timelines to hold governments to account on progress, in particular around efforts to boost species protection, reduce extinction risk, and shrink the global footprint of production and consumption activities.
However, Georgina Chandler , senior international policy advisor at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), hailed the deal as a significant step forward for nature protection globally. “Unlike the World Cup, there isn’t just one winner at COP15,” she said. “People and nature should both be better off thanks to the deal struck in Montreal. Now it’s done, governments, companies and communities need to figure out how they’ll help make these commitments a reality. That’s the only way to win the ultimate goal: a healthy planet for us all.”
Li Shuo, global policy advisor at Greenpeace China, stressed that work now had begin on how governments can turn their new commitments into policies that can actually turn the tide on biodiversity loss. “The package is by no means flawless but this is not the end,” she said. “By the next CBD COP in 2024, governments have a lot of homework to turn these agreed goals into actions at home. And have no doubt that the growing movement for nature protection, the charities, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples will keep governments to these promises.”
Craig Bennett of the Wildlife Trusts said the text’s call for governments to revise biodiversity strategies to meet their new commitments put the UK government in a bind, given the underpowered nature of the Enviornment Targets Ministers announced for England just last week.
“Amongst many other things, [the GBF] calls on all countries to revise their Biodiversity Action Plans and in particular revise their biodiversity and other environment targets to align with the substance of this new global biodiversity framework,” he said. “What that means, quite simply, is the UK government now needs to revise the very targets it adopted for England just two days ago. Because those targets just not good enough, just do not align with those that are in the global biodiversity framework agreed here in Montreal.”
The UK had been one of the loudest voices that promoted the target to protect 30 per cent of land and sea by the end of the decade, but it failed to include a protected area target in its domestic plans. The government has previously signalled that it recognises that not all the UK’s National Parks should qualify as areas that are protected for the environment given the depleted state of nature in some areas. But it is yet to confirm precisely how it plans to meet the 30 x 30 target and has faced fierce criticism from green groups for its failure to announce more ambitious environmental targets and push through long awaited reforms to farming subsidies.
Oscar Soria, campaign director at Avaaz, said the Treaty represented a significant step forward, but he warned further action was urgently needed to reverse the loss of nature and habitats that underpin the global economy.
“Extinction doesn’t negotiate – the science is clear that we need to protect at least half the Earth by 2030,” he said. “This text is a step forward from where we are, but nature needs a giant leap. Governments should scale up protections, and deliver a clear plan for the full $1tr a year that is needed to make this agreement real.”