More than 190 nations have adopted a landmark agreement in Montreal to halt the destruction of biodiversity and its resources. The new treaty aims to protect 30 percent of terrestrial and marine life by 2030.
After four years of difficult negotiations, ten days and one night of tense and intense diplomatic marathon, more than 190 nations have managed to reach an agreement for the protection of nature. The announcement was made at the closing of the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, Monday, December 19, by COP15 president Huang Runqiu, China's environment minister.
Although COP15 was held in Canada, the presidency belonged to China, which was to host the event in the city of Kunming in October 2020 but had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This "peace pact with nature" called the "Kunming-Montreal agreement" aims to protect soils, oceans, and species from pollution, degradation, and the climate crisis.
The countries have agreed to preserve a third of the planet by 2030 and donate 28 billion euros of annual conservation aid to developing countries, and have set targets for the protection of vital ecosystems, such as rainforests and wetlands, and the rights of indigenous peoples.
The adopted text includes several important targets that frame the actions to be taken to halt the rampant loss of biodiversity, what their funding will look like, and how progress will be monitored and evaluated.
In total, the new global biodiversity framework includes 23 environmental targets to be met by 2030 and four less specific targets to be met by 2050.
Key points of the agreement
The main target proposes "that, by 2030, at least 30% of land areas, waters, and coastal and marine areas (...) be effectively conserved and managed." This will be done "through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably managed networks of protected areas" and "ensuring that any sustainable use ... is fully compatible with conservation objectives." Currently, only 17% of land and 8% of seas and oceans are protected.
The pact also gives guarantees for indigenous peoples, guardians of 80% of the Earth's biodiversity, and proposes to restore 30% of degraded lands and halve pesticide-related risks.
Thus, the main points of the agreement focused on maintaining, enhancing, and restoring ecosystems, including the purpose of halting species extinction and maintaining genetic diversity; sustainable use of biodiversity, ensuring that species and habitats can continue to provide food and clean water; ensuring that the benefits of nature's resources, such as medicines that come from plants, are shared fairly and equitably and that the rights of indigenous peoples are protected; and investing and putting resources into biodiversity, ensuring that money and conservation efforts get to where they are needed.
The document has been compared to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, as it comes just as biodiversity is being reduced at the fastest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The scientific community estimates that one million species are at risk of extinction, mainly due to changes in land and sea use, climate change, and pollution.
"It really is a moment that will mark history, as Paris did for the climate," said Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault. The Paris climate agreement saw nations agreeing to keep the increase in the world's average temperature below 2 °C from pre-industrial levels and to undertake efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C.
COP15 was considered a "last chance" to put nature on a path to recovery. Throughout the negotiations there was a split on the strength of ambition and on how to finance the plans. Funding conservation efforts in areas of the globe that are home to some of the world's most remarkable biodiversity was, in fact, a major point of contention.
Last-minute opposition from the Democratic Republic of Congo even jeopardized the entire pact, claiming that it would not support it because it had no way of guaranteeing funding to meet the targets to be adopted, but the text was closed, even despite that African country's objection.
A "historic agreement"
According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), this is a "historic agreement" that means people around the world can now expect real progress in halting biodiversity loss, and can set a course for a prosperous future on a healthy planet.
For Sue Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the agreement is a compromise, and while it has several good and hard-earned elements, it could have gone further "to truly transform our relationship with nature and stop the destruction of ecosystems, habitats and species."
"We are finally beginning to forge a peace pact with nature" - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
The scientific community has been warning that with the loss of forests and grasslands at unprecedented rates, and the oceans under pressure from pollution, humans are pushing the Earth beyond its safe limits. This includes increasing the risk of diseases, such as SARs CoV-2, Ebola, and HIV, spreading from wild animals to human populations.
It is therefore urgent to carry the vision now adopted forward and demand that decisions taken on a global scale are reflected in national policies.