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Historic biodiversity agreement reached at UN conference

Negotiators reached a historic deal at a United Nations biodiversity conference early Monday that would represent the most significant effort to protect the world’s lands and oceans and provide critical financing to save biodiversity in the developing world.

The global framework was agreed on the day the UN Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, is set to end in Montreal. China, which holds the presidency at this conference, released a new draft on Sunday that gave the sometimes contentious talks much-needed momentum.

“We have in our hands a package which I think can guide us as we all work together to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and put biodiversity on the path to recovery for the benefit of all people in the world,” Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu told delegates before the package was adopted to rapturous applause just before dawn. “We can be truly proud.”

The most significant part of the agreement is a commitment to protect 30 per cent of land and water considered important for biodiversity by 2030, known as ’30 by 30′. Currently, 17 per cent of terrestrial and 10 per cent of marine areas are protected.

The deal also calls for raising US$200 billion by 2030 for biodiversity from a range of sources and working to phase out or reform subsidies that could provide another US$500 billion for nature. As part of the financing package, the framework asks for increasing to at least US$20 billion annually by 2025 the money that goes to poor countries. That number would increase to US$30 billion each year by 2030.

Financing emerged late in the talks and risked derailing an agreement. Several African countries held up the final deal for almost nine hours. They wanted the creation of a new fund for biodiversity but agreed to the creation of one under the pre-existing Global Environmental Facility, or GEF.

“Creating a fund under the GEF is the best way to obtain something immediate and efficient,” said Christophe B?chu, France’s minister for ecological transition who headed its delegation, adding that a completely new fund would have taken several years to establish and deprived developing countries of immediate cash for biodiversity.

Then as the agreement was about to be adopted, Congo stood up and said it opposed the deal because it didn’t set up that special biodiversity fund to provide developing countries with US$100 billion by 2030.

Huang swept aside the opposition and the documents that make up the framework were adopted. The convention’s legal expert ruled that Congo never formally objected to the document. Several other African countries, including Cameroon and Uganda, sided to no avail with Congo and said they would lodge a complaint.

“Many of us wanted more things in the text and more ambition, but we got an ambitious package,” Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said. “We have ’30 by 30′ … We have an agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to work on restoration, to reduce the use of pesticides. This is tremendous progress.”

France’s B?chu called it a “historical deal”.

“It’s not a small deal. It’s a deal with very precise and quantified objectives on pesticides, on reduction of loss of species, on eliminating bad subsidies,” he said. “We double until 2025 and triple 2030 the finance for biodiversity.”

The ministers and government officials from about 190 countries have mostly agreed that protecting biodiversity has to be a priority, with many comparing those efforts to climate talks that wrapped up last month in Egypt.

Climate change coupled with habitat loss, pollution, and development have hammered the world’s biodiversity, with one estimate in 2019 warning that a million plant and animal species face extinction within decades — a rate of loss 1,000 times greater than expected. Humans use about 50,000 wild species routinely, and one out of five people of the world’s eight billion population depend on those species for food and income, the report said.

But they struggled for nearly two weeks to agree on what that protection looks like and who will pay for it.

The financing has been among the most contentious issues, with delegates from 70 African, South American and Asian countries walking out of negotiations Wednesday. They returned several hours later.


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