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Nations agree to preserve 30 percent of nature by 2030

Image of a field filled with different species of flower.

It was a wild year for the UN Biodiversity Conference, this year known as COP15. The international event brought delegates from more than 190 countries to Montreal to discuss the steps the world needs to take to safeguard its species and ecosystems.

The conference was pushed back for two years due to the pandemic and had originally been slated to take place in Kunming, China. It was eventually moved to Montreal, which hosts the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) office. The conference saw protests from a group of local anti-capitalists, a walkout from countries concerned over funding, and many hours where countries around the globe debated the finer points of how best to preserve biodiversity.

Ultimately, the parties agreed to adopt the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). “The fact that they actually arrived at the agreement is in and of itself really momentous. A couple of weeks ago, that was looking tenuous,” Will Gartshore, senior director for policy and government affairs at WWF-US, told Ars.

Biodiversity is in crisis, with around 69 percent of wildlife populations having declined between 1970 and 2018. The new agreement is meant to reverse that trend.

“The new GBF is remarkable because we know our means of implementation must be stronger, and that this includes more financing on the table, especially for developing countries,” UN Environmental Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a press release. “The new GBF is different because we know that we need to have the ability to do better in ensuring a fair and equitable share of the benefits we derive from genetic resources.”

What’s in the agreement?

The GBF includes four goals and 23 targets to protect biodiversity by 2030. Perhaps the biggest of these goals is the 30×30 Conservation Plan, which requires “effective conservation and management” of at least 30 percent of the world’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems—with more focus placed on biodiverse and other vital areas.

In terms of money, the GBF stipulates that the world’s governments “phase out or reform” subsidies that harm biodiversity, with cuts on the scale of at least $500 billion per year, and increase incentives for sustainable use of ecosystems and conservation efforts. Countries also agreed to mobilize at least $200 billion in public and private funding for domestic and international biodiversity efforts.

The countries also agreed that developed nations would increase funding to developing countries to at least $20 billion per year by 2025, and to $30 billion per year by 2030. For instance, Canada is making new funding that would put its economic support for these efforts in developing nations over CA$1.5 billion (around $1.1 billion).

Now the work starts

Marcel Kok is an environment and development program leader and senior researcher at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and attended COP15. He said it was good to see representatives from sub-national governments (like cities) and the private sector attending the event. He said that all aspects of society need to coordinate, as national governments have had difficulty achieving their goals on their own. He noted that there has always been some business and municipal government presence at these events, but “now at this COP, their engagement is at a much higher level than we’ve seen before,” he told Ars.

Gartshore said that he was happy to see the nations agree to conserve 30 percent of terrestrial and aquatic habitats by 2030, but there also needs to be action on the parts of both the world’s governments and also the private sector. In the past, countries have missed their targets for similar international agreements. For instance, many of the Aichi Targets, set out at COP10, were only partially met by 2020, the agreement’s target year.

Gartshore added that he was happy to see more funding for developing nations, as implementing many of the goals will fall on their shoulders—many biodiversity hotspots are located in developing nations—and the matter of funding was a sticking point in the negotiations.

“I think our overarching impression here is that this is a really good and potentially transformational agreement, but it’s all going to be in terms of implementation,” Gartshore said.

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