Countries meeting at the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal have reached an agreement that represents a key step in protecting the world’s lands and oceans and bolsters efforts to safeguard the world’s climate.
Governments committed to protect 30% of land and water considered important for biodiversity by 2030. Currently, only 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas are protected.
The Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework also calls for raising USD 200 billion by 2030 for biodiversity from a range of sources and working to phase out or reform subsidies that could provide another USD 500 billion for nature.
As part of the financing package, the framework asks for increasing to at least USD 20 billion annually by 2025 the money that goes to poor countries. That number would increase to USD 30 billion each year by 2030.
Biodiversity COP15 as a “Paris Moment”
Land and marine ecosystems which are home to the vast majority of the world’s species - forests, peatlands, coastal areas and the ocean - absorb more than 50 per cent of man-made carbon emissions. This makes them vital to meeting the Paris Agreement’s central goal of holding global average temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial times.
At the same time, biodiversity plays a huge role in building resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, with nature-based solutions such as the protection of coral reefs and mangrove forests protect coastal communities from storms, flooding and erosion.
Elizabeth Mrema, head of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and Canada's Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault both described the conference as a “Paris moment for biodiversity”, in reference to the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate action. Under this Agreement, governments promised to develop sufficiently ambitious climate and strategies to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
Mrema also noted that more and more of the international biodiversity agenda is appearing in the discussions under climate COPs. In a first for a UN Climate Change Conference cover decision, governments meeting at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November recognized the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change. These solutions protect natural ecosystems that benefit people whilst contributing to tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity.
Non-Party stakeholders have key role to play in biodiversity and climate protection
Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, welcomed the agreement reached in Montreal and underscored the overlapping significance of the biodiversity and climate agendas.
“Nature and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin – the two go hand in hand. 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,” he said.
However, the UN’s top climate change official cautioned that whilst international agreements on biodiversity and climate such as those reached at Biodiversity COP15 in Montreal and UNFCCC COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh are important, increased action by non-Party stakeholders such as cities, regions, businesses and investors is equally important:
“For biodiversity and for climate change, we need to see as much progress as possible within the intergovernmental process. But this alone is insufficient, and that is why we need to pay as much attention as possible to real action outside of the process, to what is happening in the non-state actor space,” he added.
In this context, it is noteworthy that a number of retail and business associations announced pledges at Biodiversity COP15 to become accelerators for the UN's Race to Zero campaign, designed to encourage governments and non-Party stakeholder to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Diane Holdorf, Executive Vice President, World Business Council for Sustainable Development said: “We can´t solve the biodiversity crisis without addressing climate, and with 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the retail sector, we need to accelerate the industry transformation.”
However, a problematic plan.
One million animal and plant species could become extinct if we don’t act to protect biodiversity. In December, the UN Conference on Biological Diversity ruled that 30 percent of the planet’s surface should be protected worldwide by 2030. A questionable project that would disempower, rather than strengthen, those who have best preserved biodiversity so far: namely indigenous peoples. On the eve of COP 15, they sent a petition to the UN.
To: The Executive Secretary of the CBD, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, CBD Member States and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
Dear Madame Executive Secretary, dear Mr. Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The collapse of biodiversity is one of the existential crises of our time, along with the climate crisis. They demand profound reforms and bold action from our society.
Protected areas and “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) play a significant role in conserving biodiversity and ecosystems but are subject to significant risks. The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’s goal of placing 30 percent of the world’s land are under protection by 2030 poses several threats.
- Many protected areas and OECMs are associated with violence, impoverishment and displacement, especially of population groups who have lived there in harmony with nature for generations. The price of nature conservation is then the violation of human rights. “30 by 30” has the potential to be the biggest land grab in history.
- Many protected areas and OECMs do little to conserve nature; their establishment only serves as an alibi and distracts from effective measures.
- Targets such as 30 or even 50 percent are obviously based on political considerations rather than scientific facts.
- The establishment and management of protected areas and OECMs promises profit to large, often Western organizations and companies, and helps the latter to continue their climate-damaging business model via “nature-based solutions” that occupy land.
- The management of protected areas and OECMs often does not take regional and local specifics into account.
At the same time, there is growing recognition, backed by science, that nature is best preserved where indigenous peoples and local communities live and where their rights are protected.
We therefore call on you to:
- Strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. This involves the guarantee of forest and land rights, the right to free, prior and informed consent, protection against violence and displacement, and equitable participation in economic and social development.
- Strengthen the role of indigenous peoples and local communities in national and international negotiations and in the implementation or monitoring of decisions taken. Traditional indigenous knowledge must be incorporated.
- Work to ensure that indigenous peoples and local communities are better funded so that they can truly fulfill their role as stewards of nature.
- Work to combat the root causes of the biodiversity crisis, in particular resource exploitation and overconsumption.
Have they been listened to? We will soon find out, or at the next UN summit on biodiversity in 2024, when countries are expected to strengthen their commitments to halting biodiversity loss.