MONTREAL — Countries on Monday struck a new deal to stop and reverse biodiversity loss, with governments now on the hook to put land and seas under greater protection, limit pesticides, slow the extinction of species and boost cash flows from rich countries to poorer ones to pay for nature preservation.
But the last such agreement reached in 2010 failed to reach its targets and there is a sense that the execution has to be better this time around.
“Now we need to move from paper to implementation … that’s usually the most difficult part,” said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.
As part of the final agreement — adopted after two weeks of intense negotiations at the COP15 summit in Montreal — countries committed to put at least 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans under protected status by 2030.
They agreed to restore 30 percent of degraded habitats by the end of the decade; to halt the extinction of threatened species by 2050; to cut $500 billion in environmentally harmful subsidies and to slash pollution, among other targets.
The deal also recognizes that preserving nature is crucial to long-term economic prosperity — half of the world’s GDP is dependent on healthy ecosystems — and includes a commitment from rich countries to triple their biodiversity funding to developing countries.
Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault compared the deal to the U.N.’s 2015 Paris climate agreement.
“It is truly a moment that will mark history as Paris did for climate,” said Guilbeault, one of the conference’s co-hosts.
The U.S. is the main odd-man-out, as it never ratified the original 1992 agreement and is not bound the COP15 results.
NGOs broadly welcomed the outcome — but there were caveats.
The deal struck in Montreal “provides some hope that the crisis facing nature is starting to get the attention it deserves,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature.
But others said the deal still makes it too easy for countries to fudge on their commitments.
Like any U.N. agreement, the new framework isn’t a legally binding document, but rather nudges countries toward common environmental protection goals.
According to Pierre Cannet, advocacy director at WWF France, the system for monitoring and reporting on countries’ progress in meeting those goals lacks teeth because it remains voluntary. He also complained that the deal doesn’t make it mandatory for companies to disclose their impacts on biodiversity and allows some species extinction to continue until 2050.
The goal of ending biodiversity loss by 2030 “is far from being accomplished,” said Cannet. “There is a lot to be done to ensure that countries respect their commitments.”
Some targets — to reduce the world’s ecological footprint and ensure biodiversity can be used sustainably — are actually weaker than in the previous global deal, according to Ioannis Agapakis, an environment lawyer with the legal charity ClientEarth.
“Backtracking on these targets shows that global leaders have failed to understand the true importance of biodiversity by shying away from transforming the global economic system and mitigating its impact on nature,” he argued.
The deal “is in no way the ‘Paris moment’ for nature we were promised,” he said, because it fails to transform sectors “driving biodiversity’s rapid decline” such as intensive agriculture and resource extraction.
Give and take
The agreement has also created splits between rich and developing nations.
India and Indonesia criticized the goal — pushed hard by the EU — to halve the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by 2030, saying it threatens their food security.
Cameroon, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo were unhappy with the decision to create a fund for biodiversity projects under the existing Global Environmental Facility, saying they need a dedicated new fund to ease access to cash.
And although rich countries agreed to boost international aid for biodiversity to $20 billion annually by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030 — a threefold increase compared to current levels — African countries had wanted $100 billion per year.
Cameroon’s Environment Minister Pierre Hélé said China, which held the presidency of the talks, had “forced through” the unsatisfactory outcome.
Located in the biodiversity-rich Congo Basin, Cameroon “makes sacrifices for the whole of humanity by depriving itself from the resources for its development” and did not receive “compensation for its sacrifices,” said Hélé.
Nigeria, too, said it was “concerned” that developing countries “are yet again silenced in their request for strong financial commitments.”
Namibia, meanwhile, said the deal was “a finely balanced package deal that makes everyone equally unhappy, which is the secret for reaching agreement in the U.N. system.”
Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu defended the deal. “I have tried my best to try to bring you a balanced package,” he said, adding that “there is no magic formula for us all to be completely happy.”
Beijing was “very clever” in its negotiating tactics, according to one European negotiator. When the EU pushed to include more ambitious conservation targets, the Chinese presidency “blocked our margins of maneuver” and forced the bloc to come up with more funding in exchange. “It was very well played,” the negotiator acknowledged.
That means the final text includes a win for developing countries — more funding for biodiversity — and one for developed countries, which succeeded in securing the goal to protect 30 percent of the planet as well as a robust monitoring framework.
“China gave a little to everyone,” the negotiator added.