Australia is being urged to take a leadership role at a global summit that aims to reach what has been described as the nature equivalent of the landmark Paris agreement on climate change.
Countries will meet in Montreal for the Cop15 biodiversity summit from 7 December to work on a new framework agreement to end biodiversity decline. Campaigners say if successful it should result in the global destruction of nature being halted and reversed to the extent that wild areas and habitat for threatened species start to increase in size between now and 2030.
After earlier rounds of negotiations ended in an impasse, there are concerns an agreement either won’t be reached or its targets and goals will not be a strong as hoped.
The Albanese government enters the summit having joined the more than 90 countries to have signed the global leaders’ pledge for nature. It has also committed to domestic targets of zero new extinctions and protecting 30% of Australia’s land and sea areas by 2030.
Australia is one of only two megadiverse, developed countries in the world and the other, the US, is not a signatory to the Convention on biological diversity.
Campaigners said this put Australia in a unique position as a wealthy, megadiverse nation that should be committing to ambitious targets and stronger resourcing of conservation actions.
“Australia’s leadership is critically important because Australia has an abundance of nature and those abundant species aren’t found anywhere else,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“We would like to see minister [Tanya] Plibersek, who is attending, champion these ambitious international goals and then bringing that framework back and applying it to Australia.”
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James Trezise, conservation director at the Invasive Species Council, said funding for conservation, including increased finance from developed countries to help poorer countries protect and restore biodiversity, would be a focal point of the talks.
He said Australia’s budget for conservation had experienced large cuts since 2014 and the government would need to “step up” in resourcing some of the commitments it had made.
“As a wealthy, developed nation Australia will be also be looked at in terms of how it’s supporting other countries, in particular our Pacific neighbours, in tackling major drivers of biodiversity loss and supporting sustainable livelihoods,” he said.
The agreement has goals and targets under discussion including halting extinctions, protecting 30% of the Earth’s land and seas for conservation by 2030, and making sure business accounts for the impacts it has on nature by making nature-related financial disclosures.
Plibersek, the environment and water minister, will head to Montreal for the second week of the summit, arriving days after she delivers the government’s response to the 2020 Samuel review of national environmental laws.
The government’s focus in the negotiations will cover six main areas: reducing extinction risk, conservation, marine and coastal biodiversity, control and eradication of invasive species, waste management through a circular economy, and participation of Indigenous peoples in the biodiversity framework.
Plibersek said she was hopeful a strong agreement would be reached with clear targets that would then translate into action.
“The conference for nature this month in Montreal could be what Paris was for climate,” she said. “We must seize this opportunity.
“After almost a decade, Australia is back on the world stage on the environment and we are taking a leadership role at Cop15.
“The Albanese Labor government has already committed to protecting 30% of our land and oceans by 2030. We will be calling for other countries to do the same.”
Quinton Clements, head of policy at WWF-Australia, said one of the challenges of the negotiations had been a lack of involvement from heads of state, meaning that despite the scale of the nature crisis there had not been the same level of “buy-in” as was seen at the global climate summits.
“Time has run out for nature,” he said. “The urgency is there.
“We need to bridge the gap between the rhetoric of parties that have signed the leaders’ pledge for nature and what’s actually happening on the ground.”
The Greens environment spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the question for Australia would be what would it deliver if and when an agreement was reached.
She said Australia would have “no credibility” on protecting biodiversity if native forest logging and clearing of critical habitat for the koala continued.
“The minister is set to announce the government’s response to the Samuel review in the midst of the Cop,” she said.
“We’ll be having a very thorough look at what the minister’s response is and making sure what she does here matches the rhetoric over there.”