UN summit reaches landmark biodiversity agreement


The UN COP15 biodiversity summit has reached an agreement to protect more of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030, despite the deep divide between wealthy and developing countries that have dogged UN climate and nature negotiations.

In the early hours of Monday, a framework was signed off by almost 200 countries that would safeguard at least 30 per cent of the world’s land, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans by 2030. Presently, 17 per cent and 10 per cent of land and marine areas respectively are under protection.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the deal, thrashed out at the two-week gathering, was a “road map to protect and restore nature” that complemented the Paris Agreement for climate.

China’s environment minister and COP15 president, Huang Runqiu, said Monday’s agreement marked a “historic moment” that “put biodiversity on the path of recovery for all people.”

The summit was overseen by China and co-hosted by Canada after it was moved to Montreal because of two-year delays caused by Covid-19. But the final UN session to adopt the pact ended with some acrimony as several African nations complained about it being pushed through without debate.

The Democratic Republic of Congo expressed unhappiness with the agreement, although it did not object formally. When the pact was pushed through by Huang in the early hours of Monday without allowing further comments, Cameroon accused him of “force of hand” and Uganda described the procedure as a “fraud” and “coup d’état”. But COP15 legal advisers said the process was “consistent with the rules.”

“I have tried my best to bring you a balanced package,” Huang said in an address to the final UN session. “After so many years of difficult negotiations . . . there’s no magic formula that allows all of us to be completely happy.”

Among the compromises reached was the agreement about a new global biodiversity fund amounting to $20bn a year by 2025, and $30bn a year by 2030, under the umbrella of an existing Global Environmental Facility. This was far less than the multiples sought. Japan and the EU led the objections to a new biodiversity fund, citing existing environment funds.

The EU has pledged €7bn towards biodiversity conservation between 2021 and 2027, but only a handful of the 27 member states have followed suit.

The final COP15 biodiversity pact also included efforts to stamp out subsidies for activities deemed harmful to nature, with a pledge to end at least $500mn a year in government subsidies to businesses such as agriculture and fishing.

Another important measure will require businesses to assess and report their dependence on biodiversity.

While the agreement was hailed as “historic” by many of its participants, criticisms from some campaign groups remained over weakened language and timelines for action.

“We are particularly concerned by the weak language on species which would commit countries to halting extinctions at some point before 2050, instead of 2030,” said the WWF.

The new framework will replace the so-called Aichi biodiversity targets, first set in 2010 and named after Japan’s Aichi prefecture. None of those targets have been fully met.

The US has also attracted criticism for not being a party to the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, under which the nature summit was held, attending only as an observer.

Canadian environment minister Steven Guilbeault said the agreement showed Canada and China had managed to “set aside our differences to choose to work together”.

Greenpeace China global policy adviser Li Shuo said it was “a landmark deal that should propel China to embrace a bigger role in championing nature on the international stage.”

“The package is by no means flawless but this is not the end. By the next CBD COP in 2024, governments have a lot of homework to turn these agreed goals into actions at home,” he said.

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