Cop15: what does the biodiversity pact mean for Australia’s land, sea and threatened species? | Cop15

A once-in-a-decade agreement to halt and reverse the destruction of nature has been reached in Montreal. The Kunming-Montreal pact has been likened to the Paris agreement for climate and commits countries to a series of targets to protect and restore biodiversity.

The agreement has 23 targets ranging from increasing protected areas to reducing pollution to eliminating and mitigating the effects of invasive species. Some aspects of the agreement, such as targets related to species extinction, are not as strong as had been hoped. But if countries are serious about meeting them, it will require governments, including Australia’s, to broaden their policies for nature and wealthy nations to increase their investment.

Here are some of the key targets and what they could mean for Australia:

Protect 30% of Earth by 2030

Heralded as the centerpiece of the agreement, this target aims to conserve 30% of the Earth’s land, sea, inland water and coastal areas by 2030.

This is a global target, but one the Albanian government has also committed to reaching domestically for land and sea areas.

About 22% of Australia’s land areas are protected. To reach 30% will require protection of about 61m additional hectares, or an area about three times the size of Victoria. Work is already happening to reach this figure, with 10 new Indigenous protected areas in various stages of development that would take terrestrial protection to about 27%.

WWF-Australia says it is important Australia doesn’t just meet the 30% figure but also ensures the areas it protects are ecologically representative. This means making sure the many different types of ecosystems in Australia are all represented in the protected network.

Tim Cronin, WWF-Australia’s head of healthy land and seascapes, said the organization hoped to see more Indigenous protected areas established in some of the biodiversity hotspots of south-east Australia and contributing to one of the defining principles of the new agreement which is to prioritize Indigenous-led conservation.

For marine parks, government data puts the amount of protected Australian waters at 45%. But this is contested given only about 17% of Australia’s waters are marine sanctuaries that are fully protected from extractive activities such as industrial fishing and oil and gas production.

“To prevent any new extinctions of ocean species and help the oceans cope with the impacts of global warming, Australia’s network of marine parks must include 30% in highly protected sanctuary zones,” said Tooni Mahto, campaigns director at the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Urgent action to halt extinctions

The targets agreed in Montreal commit to “urgent management actions to halt human induced extinction of known threatened species” by 2030. This is not the target of ending extinctions immediately or within the decade that environmental campaigners had hoped for and which the Australian government pushed for at the summit – that goal has been pushed out to 2050.

But Australia as a biologically megadiverse country has set a domestic target of no new extinctions.

Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens environment spokesperson, said meeting this goal will mean not only reaching the protected areas target but answering the question of “how we care and protect the remaining 70% of our environment”, including from the climate crisis.

Ningaloo reef marine park, Western Australia.
Ningaloo reef marine park, Western Australia. Government data puts the amount of protected Australian waters at 45% but this is contested, Photograph: Suzanne Long/Alamy

The government will use 2023 to develop new laws for the protection of Australia’s environment to try to turn around the “unsustainable decline” identified by the 2020 review of Australia’s environmental laws. Addressing habitat destruction will require tackling industrial threats to nature, including in politically contentious areas such as native forestry. Improving species conservation requires more funding, with scientists estimating about $2bn a year is needed.

Environment groups say meeting the global target of taking urgent action to end extinctions will also require Australia to provide more assistance to its neighbors in megadiverse areas such as the Pacific.

Reducing the effects of invasive species

This target aims to eliminate or reduce the impacts of invasive species on biodiversity, including preventing the introduction and establishment of high risk “priority” pests.

Invasive species have been one of the major drivers of extinction in Australia.

For Australia to meet this target, it will mean strengthening investment in environmental biosecurity to stop high risk pests getting into the country and improving the transparency and management of biosecurity data, said James Trezise, ​​conservation director at the Invasive Species Council.

He said it was critical to remember that targets in the agreement were interlinked, meaning to protect Australia’s habitat also needed to manage major threats.

This target also calls on countries to control and eradicate invasive species from high environmental value sites.

Nature disclosures for business

Target 15 of the deal requires countries to require large and transnational companies and financial institutions to monitor and disclose their dependencies and impacts on nature.

If implemented, this could mean big companies and financial institutions need to know and account for how dependent they are on nature across their supply chains and the extent to which their operations are damaging nature.

A report by the ACF found most of Australia’s major banks and superannuation funds are not yet doing this.

Nathaniel Pelle, business and nature campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said improving disclosure could mean reporting on activities such as water use or the extent to which products or portfolios were responsible for land-use change, including through land-clearing.

The Albanian government has said it will develop a climate risk disclosure system but has not proposed a similar system for nature. However, the government has reached a deal with the United States to develop a global standard for governments to measure the amount of nature, its condition and its economic contribution to jobs and well-being.

Reform of environmentally harmful subsidies

The agreement commits countries to identifying environmentally harmful subsidies by 2025 and substantially reducing them by 2030.

For Australia to contribute to this target, it could mean scrutinizing subsidies to agriculture, mining or forestry to consider and quantify their impacts on biodiversity.

Amelia Young, national campaigns director at the Wilderness Society, said the Kunming-Montreal declaration signaled a “major evolution of the biodiversity agenda”.

“It is no longer tenable for governments to have environmental departments working to protect a few special places and species while other departments are promoting or subsidizing environmental decline,” she said.