United Nations biodiversity talks in recent days with many unresolved issues
Negotiators at a United Nations biodiversity conference on Saturday still have not resolved most of the key issues surrounding protecting the world’s wildlife by 2030 and making tens of billions of dollars available to developing countries to fund that effort.
The United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, or COP15, will conclude in Montreal on Monday, and delegates urged agreement on language in a framework calling for the protection of 30% of the world’s land and sea areas by 2030, a goal expressed as “30 to 30.” Currently, 17% of land and 10% of sea areas are protected worldwide.
They must also agree on amounts of funding to be used to fund projects to create protected areas and restore marine and other ecosystems. Early draft frameworks called for closing a $700 billion funding gap by 2030. Most of this would come from reforming subsidies in the agriculture, fisheries and energy sectors, but there are also calls for tens of billions of dollars in new funds flowing from the wealthy would go to the poor nations.
“From the beginning of the negotiations, we have systematically seen how some countries are weakening their ambitions. Ambition has to come back,” said Marco Lambertini, the general director of WWF International, adding that they needed a “clear conservation goal” that “sets the world on a clear course towards a nature-friendly future.”
The executive table will open the high-level segment at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal on Thursday 15 December 2022. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault was more optimistic. Guilbeault told The Associated Press on Saturday morning that he’s heard “few people are talking about red lines” and that means “people are ready to talk. People are willing to negotiate.”
“I’ve heard a lot of support for Ambition from all corners of the world,” Guilbeault said. “Everyone wants to leave here with an ambitious contract.”
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, told reporters on Saturday afternoon that she was encouraged by the progress made, particularly on resource allocation, but that no agreement had yet been reached.
“The negotiating teams have more work ahead of them. You have to translate promises made into plans, ambitions and actions,” she said.
Ministers and government officials from some 190 countries largely agree that protecting biodiversity must be a priority, and many are comparing these efforts to the climate talks that concluded in Egypt last month.
Climate change combined with habitat loss, pollution and development has taken a toll on the world’s biodiversity, with a 2019 estimate warning that one million plant and animal species could face extinction within decades – a rate of loss which is 1,000 times higher than expected. Humans routinely use about 50,000 wild species, and 1 in 5 of the world’s 8 billion population depend on these species for food and income, the report said.
But they are struggling to agree on what that protection looks like and who will pay for it.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a video address at the opening of the high-level segment at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
Funding was one of the most contentious issues as delegates from 70 African, South American and Asian countries walked out on Wednesday. A few hours later they returned.
Brazil, which speaks for developing countries, said in a statement that a new biodiversity financing mechanism will be set up and that developed countries will allocate US$100 billion annually in financial grants to emerging economies until 2030.
“You need a robust and ambitious funding package that meets the ambitions of the Global Biodiversity Framework,” Leonardo Cleaver de Athayde, the head of Brazil’s delegation, told AP.
“The implementation will cost a lot of money. The goals are extremely ambitious and cost a lot of money,” he continued. “Developing countries will bear a heavier burden of implementation as most biodiversity resources are found in developing countries. They need international support.”
Donor countries – the European Union and 13 countries – responded on Friday with a statement pledging to increase funding for biodiversity. They noted that they doubled spending on biodiversity from 2010 to 2015 and have since committed billions of dollars more in biodiversity funding.
Zac Goldsmith, Britain’s Secretary for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment, acknowledged that the focus couldn’t just be on popular safeguards like the 30×30 target.
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR AVAAZ – Actor and activist James Cromwell, third from left, urged world leaders to “stop the human asteroid” in talks at COP15 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on Thursday December 15 2022. Avaaz activists joined him on the faces of leaders urging the elimination of indigenous peoples’ language from the text of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. (Graham Hughes/AP Images for Avaaz)
“30×30 is a headline target, but you can’t deliver 30×30 without a whole bunch of other things also being agreed,” he said. “We’re not going to have a 30 by 30 without finance. We won’t have it unless other countries do it like Costa Rica and break the link between agricultural productivity and land degradation and deforestation. And we’re not going to be able to do any of those things unless we look at … subsidies.”
Protection goals are also still disputed. Many countries think 30% is an admirable goal, but some countries are pushing to water down the language to allow, among other things, sustainable activities in areas that conservationists fear could lead to destructive logging and mining. Others want language referencing capabilities to better manage the other 70% of the world that would not be protected.
Other disagreements revolve around how best to share the benefits of genetic resources and enshrining the rights of indigenous groups in treaties. Some tribal groups want direct access to funding and a voice in designating protected areas that impact tribal peoples.
“Any protected areas affecting tribal peoples must have the free prior informed consent of tribal peoples, otherwise there will be the same old patterns of tribal peoples being displaced by protected areas,” Atossa Soltani, the director of global strategy for the Sacred Amazon Headwaters Initiative, an alliance of 30 indigenous nations in Ecuador and Peru working to permanently protect 86 million acres of rainforest, said in an email interview.
The other challenge is to include language – similar to the Paris Climate Agreement – that creates a stronger system for reporting and reviewing countries’ progress. Many point to the failure of the 2010 biodiversity framework, where only six of the 20 targets were partially met by the 2020 deadline.
“It is very important for parties to see what others are doing. It’s important for civil society, people like you, to follow our progress, or unfortunately sometimes not,” Guilbeault said. “It’s an essential tool for keeping your feet on the fire. If it affects the climate. We should also have it on nature.”