The international COP 15 biodiversity conference concluded in Montreal on December 19, with the 196 nations involved agreeing on — what, exactly? According to Bloomberg (email) the international community agreed to protect and restore at least 30% of the Earth’s land and water by 2030. Wealthy nations committed to pay an estimated $30 billion a year by 2030 to poorer nations through a new biodiversity fund that will be created under the Global Environment Facility, a 30-year-old organization that supports environmental work.
Canada’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault, who was hosting the conference, compared the deal to the UN’s landmark Paris agreement, in which countries committed to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally closer to 1.5C. “It is truly a moment that will mark history as Paris did for climate,” Guilbeault said.
The Banking Community & COP 15
Bloomberg adds that hundreds of people representing investment institutions, banks, and businesses registered to attend the event and played a significant role in the negotiations in the background at the conference, adding that “financial institutions have come to understand the carnage in nature as an economic failure.” The World Economic Forum has estimated that $44 trillion, the equivalent of about half global GDP, is generated in industries dependent on nature, led by construction, agriculture and food. Collapsing ecosystems could take 2.3%, or about $2.7 trillion, off global GDP in 2030, according to the World Bank.
The private sector has already proposed or introduced new financial mechanisms for biodiversity such as debt-for-nature swaps, biocredits and natural capital funds. Yet some initiatives, such as biodiversity offsetting schemes, have been criticized for not being successful in meeting their targets.
The commitment over international flows announced Monday at the COP 15 conference is part of a broader move aimed to invest at least $200 billion annually. The bulk of that funding is assumed to come from countries’ domestic spending on nature protection — a flexible descriptor that might include funds for national parks or agriculture, philanthropy and private capital.
According to the BBC, the principal points of agreement on biodiversity include:
- Maintaining, enhancing and restoring ecosystems, including halting species extinction and maintaining genetic diversity
- “Sustainable use” of biodiversity — essentially ensuring that species and habitats can provide the services they provide for humanity, such as food and clean water
- Ensuring that the benefits of resources from nature, like medicines that come from plants, are shared fairly and equally and that indigenous peoples’ rights are protected.
- Paying for and putting resources into biodiversity: Ensuring that money and conservation efforts get to where they are needed.
Half A Loaf At COP 15
The president of COP 15, Minister Huang Runqui, declared the deal approved despite objections from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which said it couldn’t back the deal. [The conference was supposed to take place in Kunming, China, but was moved to Montreal because of Covid restrictions in China.]
Georgina Chandler, senior international policy advisor for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said people and nature should both be better off thanks to the deal struck in Montreal. “Now it’s done, governments, companies and communities need to figure out how they’ll help make these commitments a reality.”
Sue Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society said the agreement was a compromise, and although it had several good and hard-fought elements, it could have gone further “to truly transform our relationship with nature and stop our destruction of ecosystems, habitats and species.”
The agreement follows days of intense negotiations. On Saturday, ministers made impassioned speeches about the need to agree on clear goals to put nature on a path to recovery by the end of the decade. “Nature is our ship. We must ensure it stays afloat,” said EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Flowery promises and heartfelt pronouncements are all very nice, but the bottom line is, who pays, how much, and when? Bloomberg reports that poorer nations are still waiting for wealthy countries to fulfill a promise of $100 billion annually in climate finance which was supposed to start flowing in 2020.
It says there was a passionate debate in the last days of the COP 15 conference over what businesses should disclose about their reliance on natural systems and impacts on them. Negotiators had agreed early on that countries should “ensure” their companies be transparent with regulators, investors, and the public, but nations were divided over whether to make this requirement mandatory or not. The word “mandatory” was finally erased from the document. That means that part of the agreement contains what attorneys call precatory language. In other words, nations are free to ignore it if they wish and there will be no consequences attached to their inaction.
Mandatory reporting was championed by France in negotiations before the Montreal conference began but that goal was not achieved. “An agreement with 196 parties implies compromises and things that we do not have completely,” said France’s minister for the ecology transition, Christophe Bechu. “What was essential [is] we have this base now.”
Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and executive director of the UN Environment Program, issued a statement at the close of the conference.
“I welcome the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework today. The adoption of this Framework and the associated package of ambitious targets, goals and financing represents but a first step in resetting our relationship with the natural world.
“Success will be measured by our rapid and consistent progress in implementing, what we have agreed to. The entire United Nations System is geared to support its implementation so that we can truly make peace with nature.
“For far too long humanity has paved over, fragmented, over-extracted and destroyed the natural world on which we all depend. Now is our chance to shore up and strengthen the web of life, so it can carry the full weight of generations to come. Actions that we take for nature are actions to reduce poverty; they are actions to achieve the sustainable development goals; they are actions to improve human health.
“This is but one indivisible package.”
Was the COP 25 Biodiversity Conference a smashing success? Hardly. It did succeed in focusing the attention of the world for a brief moment on the need for all humanity to live together in harmony with nature or face a calamity of epic proportions.
As UN Secretary General António Guterres said in his opening remarks,
“We are out of harmony with nature. In fact, we are playing an entirely different song. Around the world, for hundreds of years, we have conducted a cacophony of chaos, played with instruments of destruction. Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems. Our land, water, and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics. The most important lesson we impart to children is to take responsibility for their actions. What example are we setting when we ourselves are failing this basic test? The deluded dreams of billionaires aside, there is no Planet B.”
Are the nations of the world prepared to take responsibility for their actions more today than they were before the conference began? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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