The 23 targets in the Cop15 biodiversity agreement announced in Montreal recently are insufficient to prevent further irrecoverable losses, including among the many species threatened with extinction. The deal is not legally binding, leading to concerns about the prospects for implementation. The track record of global biodiversity plans is terrible. Every one of 20 targets set at Aichi in Japan in 2010 was missed.
The new agreement was finalized despite complaints from African countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to one of the world’s largest rainforests, which is threatened by oil and gas exploration. The description of the U.S.’s role as “an interesting asterisk” by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was too mild. It is shaming and alarming that the U.S. was at the talks as an “influencer” and not a participant, because the Senate has refused to ratify the U.N. convention on biological diversity.
These are more than caveats. The Cop15 process and its outcomes are deeply flawed – arguably even more so than the U.N. climate negotiations. In both cases, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of present challenges and past failures. Many of the decisions and promises being made now would have been prescient had they been made decades ago. That said, international cooperation is so vital to ongoing efforts at limiting further damage that the signing of the agreement at a conference co-hosted by Canada and China must be welcomed as a positive development.
The target known as “30 by 30”, which means a commitment to protect 30 percent of the planet – both land and sea – for nature by the end of the decade, is a good one and stands a decent chance of being taken on board by civil society in many countries, in the way that net zero has. The concept of national biodiversity plans, with a similar function to the nationally determined contributions in the U.N. climate process, is also sound. The U.N. has a key role to play as the steward of environmental politics, but governments take most of the decisions that determine whether commitments are fulfilled. The strong language around Indigenous rights is also welcome, and linked to recognition of the ecological harms, as well as the benefits, of “development.”
The removal from the final draft of a target of a 5 percent increase in natural ecosystems by 2030 was a missed opportunity. Without specific goals, the danger is that fine intentions will fizzle out. Other problems include the lack of a commitment to tackle consumption patterns, above all in the rich west, which make huge demands on finite resources, as well as producing large amounts of carbon. Diets, in particular meat-rich western ones, will have to change if we are to have any chance of conserving habitats including the Amazon, where cattle farming leads to deforestation.
But the agreement is a step forward, and the hope must be that the orientation of politics will now shift – as it has done in regard to climate – to place more emphasis on the conservation and restoration of nature. African governments collectively played an important role in securing progress in Montreal, and the treatment of the DRC in the final session must not be glossed over. Justice is at stake in the nature crisis, as in the climate one. If the Cop biodiversity process is to work, the U.N. must ensure that all voices are heard.
— The Guardian, Dec. 19, 2022
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