Analysis. After four years of negotiations and a 10-day marathon at the UN summit, 196 states have reached a non-binding agreement. Environmentalists called it a good first step.

Montreal created a plan to protect biodiversity, but methods are discretionary

The Kumning-Montreal Global Agreement on Biodiversity was finally approved in Montreal after four years of negotiations and a packed plenary at the conclusion of COP15, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which counts 196 member states.

The previous Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in Nagoya in 2010, fell short. Will the new agreement be a milestone for the preservation of nature and protection of peoples?

Its goals to protect ecosystems call for 30 percent of land, inland water, coastal and marine areas to be conserved by 2030 through networks of protected areas in which any sustainable use must be compatible with conservation (today, 17 percent of land areas and 85 percent of the ocean are formally protected). Another goal: restore at least 30 percent of the degraded land and water surfaces by 2030.

It also calls for halting the loss of natural environments; halving the risk of pesticides and pollutants (too much for some large agricultural producing countries, and too little according to environmentalists); working against global plastic pollution; reducing the footprint of hyper-consumption and waste and cutting food waste in half; working to minimize the impact of climate change and ocean acidification, avoiding cascading extinctions; making agriculture, fisheries and timber harvesting sustainable; and taking steps to ensure that large corporations and big finance in particular monitor and disclose their impacts on biodiversity.

Between extinctions, invasions and trafficking, the agreement commits countries to take action for the conservation and recovery of endangered species (one million animals and plants), countering the spread of invasive species and reducing risks, including the health risks associated with illegal wildlife trade.

The agreement also calls for indigenous people to be granted explicit recognition of their rights, role, territories and knowledge, vital in protecting nature and biodiversity.

The battle over funding and equity was fierce: the global South, home to the largest share of biodiversity, has so far received too many demands to make efforts and too little help from the hyper-consumerist North.

The concluded agreement recommends that signatory countries both reduce nature-harming subsidies by at least $500 billion a year by the end of this decade and allocate $200 billion a year for biodiversity conservation initiatives. It envisions $30 billion in annual aid to the South by 2030 (and $20 billion by 2025).

For now, there will be no new ad hoc biodiversity fund: it will be a branch of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). As The Guardian pointed out, the Chinese presidency seems to have forced the deal through at the last moment, ignoring strong objections from African countries (as GEF money goes largely to Asian and Latin American countries).

To fight the biopiracy of biological resources by multinational value chains, the agreement plans to establish a global mechanism and fund to share the benefits from the use of digital sequence information (DSI) of genetic resources. The issue of biopiracy has long engaged groups such as the Third World Network (TWN) – which, together with 60 other organizations, wrote to negotiators asking that the text should not contain mere generic formulas. In addition, the March 2022 TWN Briefing Paper made it clear that the global South’s debt encourages biodiversity loss.

Greenpeace stressed that “rights-based protections” for indigenous peoples “are the future of conservation,” but that overall, “COP15 failed to deliver the ambition, tools, or finance necessary to stop mass extinction. The 30×30 target, to protect at least 30% of land and of sea by 2030, has successfully made it in. But it is stripped-down, without essential qualifiers that exclude damaging activities from protected areas. As is, it is just an empty number, with protections on paper but nowhere else”

Greenpeace also accuses that there is insufficient funding, given the $700 billion biodiversity funding gap. Moreover, “corporate schemes like nature-based solutions and offsets leeched on to the UN biodiversity talks from start to finish. These are false solutions that may prove to be costly mistakes,” as with climate actions. The result will be that European governments will have to go much further than what has been agreed to really protect at least 30 percent of the lands and seas from any extractive and industrial activities, with at least 10 percent fully protected.

According to Legambiente, this is a “first step,” but “too much discretion has been left to individual countries: individual states must implement specific policies to ensure effectiveness quickly. We expect serious and decisive action from Italy, the European country with the greatest biodiversity.”

WWF also calls for the “immediate implementation” of the agreement, “no excuses, no delays.” The agreement is not as binding as the Paris Climate Agreement, although it does provide for verification mechanisms.

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