UN's landmark nature protections a "Paris moment" for biodiversity
In what is being hailed as an historic moment for the environment, world leaders at the UN’s Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal have reached an agreement to ramp up protections of the planet’s precious natural ecosystems. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework commits countries to safeguarding 30% of land and water considered important for biodiversity by 2030.
With wildlife declining at catastrophic rates and scientists sounding the alarm over a sixth (or seventh) mass extinction event, this month’s COP15 biodiversity conference was seen as a pivotal moment in our relationship with the planet.
"The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations has been billed as the event that will determine the fate of the entire living world,” said Professor Sarah Bekessy from RMIT University’s School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning. “Given that we are experiencing a global biodiversity crisis, there's no doubt that genuine commitment by the world's leaders is very much needed.”
World leaders spent the last two weeks at the conference hashing out the details of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, before it was approved and finalized by representatives of 188 governments, 95% of the 196 parties to the UN. Where currently only 17% of terrestrial areas and 10% of marine areas are protected, the agreement calls for nations to step up and protect 30% of land and water by 2030.
Hailed by Canada’s Environment minister Steven Guilbeault as a “Paris moment” for biodiversity, in reference to the landmark UN commitment to tackle rising global temperatures, the agreement lays out goals and targets for nations to work toward. These including cutting global food waste in half to reduce the strain on planetary resources, tackling risks posed by pesticides and hazardous chemicals, preventing the introduction of invasive species, and reducing the loss of high biodiversity areas to near zero.
“Nature and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin – the two go hand in hand,” said Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change. “Climate change is negatively impacting biodiversity, and biodiversity is part of the solution to climate change. After decades of ecosystem destruction and plummeting biodiversity, the agreement reached at COP15 provides the framework to halt and reverse these trends. There is no turning back, no excuses for inaction. The direction of travel is clear.”
Though the agreement is billed as a significant moment in the effort to preserve global biodiversity, it is also seen as imperfect by some, with experts bemoaning the lack of ironclad language that locks governments into important details regarding the commitment.
“There are also many weaknesses,” said Ralf Buckley, Emeritus Professor in the School of Environment and Science at Australia’s Griffith University.” It says little about protected areas or conservation, and nothing about wilderness or pristine ecosystems … the preamble is full of get-out clauses saying that individual countries can do whatever they want. The goals are global, not country by country. Targets for reducing extinctions are two generations away.”
And although a consensus was reached eventually, it wasn’t an entirely harmonious result, with some African nations taking issue with how conservation efforts will be funded in developing countries. The agreement calls for raising of US$200 billion by 2030, and for at least $20 billion to be funneled from wealthy countries to developing countries from 2025. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had called for a dedicated fund for these purposes, but was ultimately overruled.
“The new funds go via the GEF, the Global Environment Fund,” Buckley explained. “But the main recipients of existing GEF funds are China, Brazil, Indonesia, India and Mexico, not African nations. Therefore, DRC wanted a separate CBD fund, but was overruled by the chair, and has therefore declared that it will manage its forests as it sees fit."