UN biodiversity talks aim to strike deal protecting third of planet

Negotiators have proposed targets to protect roughly one-third of the planet as part of UN talks aimed at striking a global deal to reverse the destruction of nature.

The talks, which have been taking place in Montreal over the past week and a half, are pushing to create what is being dubbed a “Paris Agreement for nature”, referring to the 2015 global deal in which 189 countries pledged to limit global warming to 1.5C.

As part of the final draft of the agreement, released a day before talks are scheduled to conclude on Monday, the presidency proposed that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of the planet’s land and oceans should be “effectively conserved”, while at least 30 per cent of “degraded” land and ocean ecosystems should be under “effective restoration” programs.

Heads of delegation from the 196 countries taking part in the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP15, will meet to discuss the latest text on Sunday afternoon eastern time, before the final meetings of the summit on Monday.

Brian O’Donnell, director of Campaign for Nature, an environmental group, said the draft text made “the largest commitment to ocean and land conservation in history”, roughly tripling the commitment to conservation set by the previous so-called Aichi biodiversity targets set over a decade ago. None of those targets have been fully met.

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As well as setting out conservation goals, the draft text proposes tripling the amount of international finance by 2030, pledging $200bn annually to increase global biodiversity. This would include increasing contributions from developed economies to developing economies to at least $20bn per year by 2025, and $30bn per year by 2030.

Countries are called on to “eliminate, phase out or reform” incentives and subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity, and a global target of reducing them by $500bn per year by 2030 is proposed.

Nearly $2tn annually, equivalent to around 2 percent of global gross domestic product, is invested in subsidies connected to biodiversity loss, according to analysis from Business for Nature and Earth Track.

Despite the growing alarm from policymakers and scientists over the world’s degrading environment, including the acceleration of global warming caused by widespread deforestation, world leaders have generally not attended the talks.

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

Monica Medina, the US special envoy on biodiversity, told reporters on Friday that it was “not ideal” that the US was not a member but that it did not stop America from “making contributions”.

The conference has attracted a higher level of business interest than previous UN biodiversity talks as alarm about the impact of declining natural resources grows among companies.

The World Economic Forum estimated in a 2020 report that more than half of global GDP, or about $44tn, was “moderately or highly dependent on nature”. Construction, agriculture and food and drinks are the sectors most dependent on nature, the WEF report highlighted.

One item in the final draft asks businesses to assess and report their dependence on biodiversity, but stops short of any language that would make such disclosure mandatory.

The UN scientific body on nature, known as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, found in its landmark 2019 assessment that 1 million animal and plant species were in danger of extinction. It also estimated that about three-quarters of food crops that depend on animal pollination were at risk.