The United Nations Convention on Nature depends on whether rich countries can achieve their goals
A new conservation pact, adopted this week at the United Nations summit in Montreal, puts the world on a strong path to halting nature’s rapid decline — but only if rich countries provide enough financing and all countries prioritize conservation.
The goals outlined in the agreement, known as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, include halting species extinctions, preserving 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030, and mobilizing $200 billion annually for conservation.
Conservationists have praised the deal’s ambition, saying it amounts to the Paris Nature Agreement in setting out 23 specific targets against which countries can measure their progress.
“This is equivalent to the 1.5°C global climate target,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of the Wildlife Fund International.
Just setting the goals took four years of negotiations, culminating in the “COP15” summit held this month in Montreal, during which countries weighed considerations of nature against other pressures such as economic development and industrial competition.
At stake is nothing less than the survival of hundreds of thousands of species, with the United Nations saying there are now about a million threatened with extinction.
But conservation experts told Reuters that achieving the 23 goals will be much more difficult, requiring strong political will and a willingness to sacrifice some of the world’s most valuable real estate in favor of nature.
“What really matters is how these goals and targets are translated into national plans,” said Nick Isaac, a macro-environmental scientist at the UK’s Center for Environment and Hydrology.
For developing countries, it will also count on access to much-needed financing to stimulate and pay for conservation.
“The key will be for developed countries to fulfill their financial obligations early,” said a negotiator from a Latin American country.
While the deal includes the ambitious target of protecting 30% of land and seas by 2030, the results will depend on which areas are chosen to protect – and what exactly counts as protection.
Neither is precisely defined in the agreement, and it is left to the states to decide how ambitious they are.
Scientists and conservation groups have urged countries to protect species-rich land and sea areas. The problem is that these are the same areas that most people prefer to live and work in – with mild weather, plenty of water and green spaces.
“The choice of areas to protect … has to be based on the best data and methodology available,” said Alexander Antonelli, director of science at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Otherwise, there is a significant risk that the cheapest areas are protected rather than those most important for biodiversity.
Experts say what states consider protected is also important.
During the talks, delegates debated whether protected areas should be completely off limits to human settlement and development, or whether the extraction of some resources should be allowed if they are managed sustainably. The deal left the question unresolved.
Some countries have already begun to designate protection zones.
China has made nearly a third of its territory off-limits for development. Canada, one of the world’s largest countries, is expanding protected lands and marine areas in the Arctic.
Later this month, the US Congress is expected to pass legislation to provide $1.4 billion in annual funding to US states for conservation.
Show us the money
During the two-week COP15 summit, ministers repeatedly insisted that any conservation ambition must be matched by money.
Funding from developed countries ultimately came well short of the $100 billion per year required. Instead, the deal included a promise of $200 billion annually by 2030 from the public and private sectors — including $30 billion from rich countries.
Without this money, poor countries, she warned, would not be able to ensure the protection of nature within their borders.
“Protecting the Amazon, Congo Basin forests, peatlands, mangroves and coral reefs globally is going to require some significant increases in funding,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for Nature.
“Political leaders are just beginning to realize how important priority biodiversity is on their agendas and on their budgets,” he said.
At COP15, the three largest rainforest nations – Brazil, Congo and Indonesia – worked together in the final hours to reach consensus on a deal. Last month, the three announced a new partnership to collaborate on forest conservation.
“Such a coalition holds great potential,” said Anders Hough-Larsen of the Norwegian Rainforest Foundation. “With the Convention prioritizing areas richest in biodiversity, rainforest protection will be implicitly at the heart of its implementation.”