Nearly 200 governments have signed an historic deal to halt the destruction of rainforests, oceans, coral reefs and other vital ecosystems that amount to the greatest conservation commitment of all time.
After more than four years of negotiations and talks into the night on Sunday in Montreal, 195 countries – with the notable absence of the US – have agreed to take decisive action that would, for the first time in years, put the world on a path to living sustainably with nature by the middle of the century.
Countries, including the UK, have pledged to conserve 30 per cent of the world’s lands, seas, coasts and inland waters by 2030 as part of the deal – known as the 30×30 target.
It has yet to be determined which areas will be protected although it is expected to include vast swathes of the Amazon and other rainforests.
Measures also include a pledge to increase the flow of finance to developing nations to care for nature to $20bn (£16.5bn) by 2025 and at least $30bn by 2030.
Conservationists described the moment as historic and a landmark deal for nature but warned governments must now deliver on it.
Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, said the deal is “a landmark global biodiversity agreement that provides some hope that the crisis facing nature is starting to get the attention it deserves”.
He added: “The “30×30” target marks the largest land and ocean conservation commitment in history. It will have major positive impacts for wildlife, for addressing climate change and for securing the services that nature provides to people, including clean water and pollination for crops.
“Ocean conservation, which has historically lagged behind land conservation, will now be an equal priority.”
But some warned the measures didn’t go far enough.
Greenpeace said despite agreeing the landmark “30×30” target and recognising the rights of indigenous peoples, the biodiversity summit, known as Cop15, failed to deliver the ambition, tools or finance to stop mass extinction of huge numbers of animal and plant species.
An Lambrechts, head of the Greenpeace delegation at Cop15, warned the 30 per cent target was “stripped-down, without essential qualifiers that exclude damaging activities from protected areas. As is, it is just an empty number, with protections on paper but nowhere else.”
There are also concerns that the agreement could be difficult to see through, with the US – which has historically been against the deal – continuing to object and African nations such as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda all voicing anger at the deal.
Adding to the obstacles, the agreement isn’t legally binding.
Some of the key details over exactly who will pay – and how much – and to whom to fund the conservation have also still to be worked out.
Rich countries agreed to provide $30bn of aid for biodiversity by the end of the decade, believed to be a substantial increase on current levels.
But a target to halve the global footprint of humanity’s consumption was relegated to a call for people to be “encouraged and enabled to make sustainable consumption choices”.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “Today’s deal is an historic milestone in protecting our natural environment for future generations.”
Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said: “The agreement reached in Montréal today is a real breakthrough.”
The situation in the UK
The global agreement has put the spotlight on the UK, where protections for nature are not nearly as strong as they should be, campaigners warn.
Environmentalists urged the Government to beef up ambition on environmental targets announced in the Environment Act on Friday which, they said, were far too late for air pollution and offered nothing new on water quality, tackling plastic pollution, protecting woodlands and other wildlife-rich habitats.
They also urged the UK against ditching legislation from EU laws covering everything from peatland protections to water purity, that they say could remove legal protections for wildlife and wild places if not replaced with equally robust UK laws.
Kathryn Brown, from The Wildlife Trusts, said: “This is a historic moment which provides humanity with a north star for putting nature into recovery.”
But she warned governments could not rest on their laurels, saying: “Governments around the world must swiftly develop plans to protect at least 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent of sea by the end of this decade.
“Here in the UK, that also means revisiting the shockingly unambitious Environment Act targets announced last week and scrapping the dangerous Retained EU Law Bill, which could remove legal protections for wildlife and wild places.
“We applaud negotiators for reaching this landmark deal – now the work begins to turn ambition into action,” she said.
Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK, said: “The global ambition agreed at Cop15 to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 is vital if we are to bring our planet back from the brink.
“The UK Government must now lead the way at home and abroad with actions that deliver on its promises and make the ambition of Cop15 a reality,” he urged.
Will McCallum, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said governments such as the UK’s which had fought for stronger language within the 30×30 target must lead by example, accusing ministers of weak environmental targets and allowing “destructive” fishing in vulnerable sea areas.
“We need to see properly protected ocean sanctuaries, and large swathes of land managed for nature, to show the world that restoring biodiversity unlocks jobs in rural and remote areas, keeps our food system resilient and makes sure we are all more able to withstand the impacts that climate change is already having,” he said.
What is in the agreement
The COP15 agreement, instantly billed as the greatest conservation deal in history, has 23 separate targets.
These are the most significant.
Agreement to conserve 30 per cent of Earth by the end of the decade
The most important of these is the so-called 30×30 agreement that would seek to halt the decline of 30 per cent of the world’s lands, seas, coasts and inland waters by 2030. This was inspired by legendary biologist E. O. Wilson’s vision of protecting half the planet to ensure mankind’s survival in the long term, a target that really captured the imagination but is seen as a bit too ambitious despite the dire peril the planet finds itself in and the need for dramatic action.
Campaigners have welcomed the fact that the agreement language emphasises the importance of the full spectrum of water – as well as land – habitats that are sometimes overlooked in “biodiversity” deals, including wetlands, rainforests, grasslands and coral reefs are properly protected, not just on paper.
Indigenous people put at the centre of conservation
Indigenous people are seen by many as the best stewards of nature, as they have been looking after the land for centuries, and the agreement gives them much greater recognition. They represent five per cent of the global population but inhabit a much greater share of some of the world’s most valuable habitat. However, their voices are frequently ignored, and they are often forced off their land, for example in the Brazilian Amazon to make way for logging or land for cattle.
“This new set of targets represents a significant shift towards the end of a ‘colonial conservation ethos’, with new goals around equality, inclusivity and human development, shown by greater use of words such as ‘indigenous’, ‘communities’, ‘equitable’, rights’ and ‘development’,” said Tom Oliver, professor of applied ecology, University of Reading.
“It reflects a shift from a narrow neo-liberal perspective of measuring biodiversity stocks and announcing protected areas, to more a holistic approach working with local communities to support equality and development.”
Reform of environmentally harmful subsidies
The world spends at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on government subsidies, many of them for fossil fuels, that is destroying wildlife and fuelling global warming.
After years of talk, a major scaling down of these subsidies has been announced – that will reduce by $500bn a year (£411bn) government subsidies that harm nature.
Richer countries paying poorer countries to take actio:
As with the COP27 climate change negotiations, the amount of money richer nations provide to poorer ones to help them take the dramatic actions needed to avert ecological disaster are a key sticking point.
In the case of climate change, the issue is around the fact that the developing nations have created most of the problems, while the poorer ones suffer most of the consequences.
With nature, the richer nations are still largely responsible for destruction – by demanding huge volumes of consumer goods – while the poorer nations tend to be custodians of huge areas of highly valuable land, rainforests in particular.
The agreement includes a pledge to increase the flow of finance to developing nations to care for nature to $20bn (£16.5bn) by 2025 and at least $30bn by 2030.
In total countries pledged to ensure $200bn a year of biodiversity-related funding by 2030, from public and private sources.
Business impacts on biodiversity
The deal requires governments to ensure that large and transnational companies disclose “their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity”. Depending on how this is implemented, this could potentially change the way that some companies do business – as a healthy functioning natural world plays a key role in the economy.
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