A potentially transformational agreement for nature is close to being reached at Cop15 in Montreal, which could bring better protection for Earth’s vital ecosystems such as the Amazon and Congo basin rainforests, big reforms to agriculture, and better protection of indigenous territories and rights – but there are concerns that key issues are being overlooked.
After four years of negotiations and 12 years since the last biodiversity targets were agreed in Japan, the Chinese president of Cop15 put forward its recommendations for a final agreement after two weeks of intense negotiations at the UN biodiversity summit in Canada.
Over the last few days, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, and other world leaders called for an ambitious package to tackle scientific warnings about 1m species at risk of extinction ahead of the release of the text.
Heads of delegations responded to the text in a meeting on Sunday, with a plenary set to be held in the evening and negotiations expected to continue overnight. China’s environment minister, Huang Runqiu, the Cop15 president, said he wanted the final text to be adopted on Monday.
Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s climate and environment minister, told the Guardian: “I think that we are very close to a settlement. The document on the table is good.
“We have decided to establish a multilateral mechanism for sharing the benefits from drug discoveries, vaccines and food products that come from digital forms of biodiversity. If we have a deal, that will be a historic victory for Africa, especially, who has led on this issue.”
Some developing countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil and Malaysia, expressed their disappointment that a new separate fund for biodiversity had not been proposed as part of the final text, and said they could not yet agree to the formulation proposed by China.
“[The DRC] is unable to support the adoption of the framework for global biodiversity post-2020 in its current state without the creation of a transparent and independent global fund dedicated to biodiversity,” Ève Bazaiba, the DRC’s environment minister, told the head of delegation meeting.
The package, which includes this decade’s targets to halt the destruction of the planet’s life-sustaining ecosystems, includes plans to protect 30% of Earth for nature, reform $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and halt pollution that damages ecosystems by the end of the decade.
Countries from the global north would contribute $30bn a year for conservation by the end of the decade if the agreement is adopted.
Strong language for the protection of indigenous rights and territories is emphasised throughout the 23 targets and four goals that make up the main agreement, known as the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
Plans to create a new financing mechanism for biodiversity to support conservation efforts, housed under the UN’s Global Environment Facility, are included in the package presented by the Chinese presidency.
Environmental groups and observers said that if the deal was implemented in full and backed by financial resources, it could be the start of a major change in humanity’s relationship with nature.
But they cautioned that no previous UN biodiversity targets have been met by governments and there are gaps in the current text.
Some expressed disappointment at the weaker-than-hoped language on consumption and business action on nature after a proposal for mandatory disclosures was not included in the text, and the term “nature positive”, which scientists had said would be the biodiversity equivalent of “net zero”, did not appear.
Conservation groups are also concerned that there is no numerical target for preventing extinctions until 2050.
“We’re almost there,” said Canada’s environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, who has played a key role at Cop15 in shaping negotiations.
“[It is] a text that is genuinely trying to chart a middle-of-the-way course … many elements are there. If adopted, it will represent a massive change,” said one observer close to the talks.
“We’re now only a degree or two removed from a deal that could catalyse global nature protection,” said Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China, who has been following the negotiations closely.
“The shell of global biodiversity protections is here. But we have two days to fill it with specific figures to hold governments to account.”
Noelle Kumpel, head of policy at Birdlife International, said the draft has a clear mission to halt and reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2030, but that has not been included as a numerical target in the current draft. She explained: “The rest of the framework currently fails to set a clear roadmap to how we will achieve this.”
Eva Zabey, the executive director of Business for Nature, said the latest text signalled to large businesses that they would be required to assess and disclose their impact on nature across their supply chains, but it should be stronger.
“Voluntary action is not enough,” she said. The target of making businesses halve their negative impacts on biodiversity has also been removed.
Another contentious issue was the lack of inclusion of “nature-positive”, which many scientists said was important to get into the final text as a signal of the sort of ambition that should be agreed.
“Although the 2030 goal of ‘take urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss’ is weaker than ‘to halt and reverse’, this is still a strong call to action,” said the Oxford biology professor EJ Milner-Gulland.
“I think the main issue is that the can is being kicked down the road. as we are lacking clear targets and milestones for many of the most important things.”
However, she said it was good to see concrete figures on the finance side. “I also just hope that we get some kind of deal that we can work with, even if it’s imperfect – every deal is a compromise,” she said.
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