In a landmark agreement, more than 190 nations have agreed on a plan to protect and restore 30% of the world’s oceans and land by 2030 to stave off the threat of mass extinctions of plants and animals.
Though not legally binding, it is “the largest land-sea conservation agreement in history,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, which campaigned for protected area expansion in the run-up to the conference.
The China-brokered deal to protect ecosystems and halt biodiversity decline “gives hope that the crisis facing nature is beginning to get the attention it deserves,” O’Donnell added.
In the early hours of Monday after two weeks of tense negotiations at the United Nations COP15 conference on biodiversity, the “historic” deal was agreed between Kunming and Montreal to reduce risks to biodiversity from the use of pesticides. It also aims to fight invasive species and protect the rights of tribal peoples as custodians of local ecosystems — a key demand by activists.
Officials also agreed to divert hundreds of billions of dollars worth of subsidies that support polluting industries and allocate more money to fight species extinction.
“The global community now has a roadmap for protecting and restoring nature and using it sustainably – for present and future generations,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who hosted the Montreal conference, compared the outcome to the UN’s historic 2015 Paris climate accord, in which nations agreed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
“It’s really a moment that will go down in history like Paris was for the climate,” Guilbeault said.
Life on earth depends on rich biodiversity
Human activities such as clearing habitats for agriculture are the main causes of the massive decline in plant and animal species on Earth. Scientists have predicted that 75% of the world’s biodiversity could disappear in just a few centuries – in a phenomenon dubbed the “sixth mass extinction event”.
The consequences of such losses are serious, complex and far-reaching. In addition to threatening food security and water sources, it also exacerbates climate change by destroying the Earth’s natural carbon sinks such as peatlands and tropical forests. These sinks suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, preventing it from further heating the planet.
Currently, less than 17% of the earth’s land surface and 10% of the world’s oceans are officially protected. If countries comply with the agreement, it has the potential to protect wildlife, help fight the climate crisis and protect ecosystems vital to life on earth.
“Moose, sea turtles, parrots, rhinos, rare ferns and ancient trees, butterflies, rays and dolphins are among the millions of species whose survival and populations will be greatly improved if this agreement is implemented effectively,” O’Donnell said.
According to the World Economic Forum, protecting nature would also protect the economy. Around $44 trillion (€42 trillion) — 50 percent of global economic output — depends on nature-based industries, the organization said.
COP15 deal almost fell through due to financing difficulties
A “peace pact with nature” was the motto of the COP15. And for that to happen, negotiators had to figure out where the money would come from to fund a robust deal. As with the COP27 climate talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November, funding has been a major obstacle for global leaders who have been working overtime to reach a compromise.
Dozens of countries in the Global South, including Brazil, India, Indonesia and many African countries that are home to particularly biodiverse and valuable ecosystems, are demanding US$100 billion annually through 2030, or 1% of global GDP, to protect and restore habitats finance more than what is in the pot now.
“We see an emerging market where countries in the South say they will not commit to strong ambitions without adequate funding,” said Sebastian Treyer, executive director of think tank IDDRI.
Rich countries have to pay $30 billion a year into a new fund
Wealthy nations rejected a request from developing countries in the G77 group to set up a special biodiversity fund, arguing that money could flow faster and more effectively through existing mechanisms.
As a compromise, a fund will be set up under the Global Environment Facility, a 30-year-old environmental organization. Rich countries, such as those in the EU, are expected to pay $20 billion into the fund from 2025 and $30 billion from 2030. The money comes from both public and private sources.
But critics say it’s not yet clear how the money will be used and where it will have the greatest impact. This risks wasting resources, said Conservation International’s Lina Barrera — something “we don’t have time for,” she said.
Companies are also only asked to report on the impact of their activities on biodiversity, and not obliged to do so, as many have demanded.
The agreement also lacks goals for species protection by 2050, critics criticized. Instead, it says that human-caused extinctions of threatened species must be halted and extinction rates increased tenfold.
Subsidizing polluting industries is a key threat to biodiversity
Reducing subsidies for polluting industries was also an essential part of the COP15 negotiations. Around $1.8 trillion is spent each year making gasoline and kerosene cheaper for shoppers, according to think tank Earth Track. According to the United Nations, another $470 billion goes into polluting industrial agriculture, distorting the true cost of food and other products.
World leaders agreed to redirect $500 billion worth of these subsidies through 2030.
“Now the hard work begins. It is time to deliver on the promises made in Montreal and ensure the framework’s goals are met,” said Barrera of Conservation International. “With 1 million species threatened with extinction, there is no time to waste.”
This article was adapted from German.