As thousands of people descended on Montreal last week for an ongoing crucial UN biodiversity summit, fears are growing among delegates over whether the countries involved can agree on an ambitious global pact to protect nature this decade.
Extra talks in the days before the December 7-19 summit, known as COP15, hoped to streamline the wording of draft biodiversity protection targets — pushing more than 190 nations towards a successful compromise.
Instead, the draft nature pact has become even messier.
“I don’t feel that the delegates went as far as we would have expected,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, at a press conference this week.
Environmentalists say a deal on nature is vital amid widespread degradation caused by human activity, with the world’s wildlife populations declining by more than two-thirds since 1970, according to green group WWF.
Improving conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, is seen as crucial to safeguarding the ecosystems on which humans depend and limiting global warming to internationally agreed targets.
This week, environment ministers are due to arrive at COP15 to hash out any remaining disagreements but there are still major fault-lines between negotiators.
The current draft agreement has around 1,400 phrases which are bracketed, indicating a lack of consensus over wording, despite years of talks and Covid-19 delays.
“The general approach of parties has been to really entrench themselves in the positions that have come forward over the last four years,” said Masha Kalinina, a conservation officer at the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts.

30 BY 30
One key goal that could determine whether Montreal is a success is the headline target to protect at least 30% of lands and oceans by 2030, known as 30 by 30.
The pledge has already drawn support from more than 110 nations, and would represent a significant increase in protected areas, which currently cover just 17% of lands and less than 8% of marine areas, according to a UN report released last year.
But concern is growing among nature experts that marine protection, in particular, is being weakened during the COP15 talks.
“What I’m most nervous about is that there would be an attempt to reduce the percentage ambition for the ocean down from 30%,” said Kalinina.
Kalinina warned that during previous biodiversity talks in Japan in 2010, scientists called for 20% of the ocean to be protected by 2020 but only 10% was agreed.
“That was a political target that was negotiated on the last day of that COP,” she said on the Japan talks.
“We are worried that history could repeat itself but we are not in a place to survive that kind of mistake.”

Achilles heel
Many of the world’s most biodiversity-rich areas are situated in developing nations, from the Amazon rainforest to coastal mangroves in Southeast Asia.
As about 195 countries look to finalise an accord to safeguard plants, animals and ecosystems, developing nations are seeking more funding from wealthier states to help them achieve any agreed targets.
“Financing is always the Achilles heel of every global agreement,” said Florian Titze, a policy advisor at WWF Germany, at a press conference.
“We are really concerned that financing could be the issue that derails these negotiations at the end, and that will keep us from successfully agreeing an ambitious framework,” he said.
Investments in protecting and better managing the world’s ecosystems will need to reach about $384 billion a year by 2025, more than double their current levels, a UN Environment Programme report said last week.
Led by a number of African countries, developing nations at the COP15 talks are calling for at least $100bn in nature financing from richer countries each year — an echo of a similar climate change commitment starting from 2020 that wealthy nation have yet to meet.
“If there is no finance, the developing countries are clearly saying that they don’t have the capacity to do what they are supposed to do,” said Souparna Lahiri, a climate policy advisor at green umbrella group the Global Forest Coalition.
The European Union delegation however, has emphasised the need to mobilise finance from all sources, including the private sector, and adopt more sustainable business practices.
“The bulk of the financial resources that are necessary for implementing the framework will have to be raised in a domestic context,” said Hugo-Maria Schally, an adviser on environment negotiations at the European Commission.
While promising to deliver on a pledge to invest €7bn ($7.4bn) in biodiversity protection worldwide by 2025, Schally said international public finance “will actually play a minor part” in achieving COP15 goals.
With so many disagreements still to be resolved in the COP15 negotiations, the race is now on to find a breakthrough.
Li Shuo, a policy adviser at Greenpeace China, said all countries — including COP15 president China — need to step up to take leadership and inject more urgency into the talks.
Despite the challenges, he said nature protection talks could provide an opportunity to send a “strong signal” in support of multilateral co-operation between nations.
“This is actually a perfect platform to build political trust,” Li added. — Thomson Reuters Foundation
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