MONTREAL, Quebec – Remember the big climate talks in Egypt last month? Another very important environmental summit is now taking place in Canada. It’s also about a global crisis that threatens life on Earth, but has gotten much less attention: rampant human-caused biodiversity loss. And this means not only the extinction of species, but also an amazing decrease in the diversity of life on the planet.
Don’t stop reading out of fear! The biodiversity talks in Montreal could result in the most important global agreement to protect and restore nature in history.
They could also end up with something a lot less ambitious.
They can even collapse.
However, keep reading, because what happens over the next few days at the Montreal Convention Center has huge risks for life on Earth. (To get a better feel for that, Check out this visual article about habitat loss.)
What is the purpose of the talks?
The meeting is known as COP15, because it is the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Ultimately, its goal is a new 10-year agreement that will enable the world to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. There is no silver bullet for this, so negotiators furiously discuss the details of about 20 goals that will collectively address the problem.
Managing lands and oceans more sustainably. restoration of degraded areas. Create new protected areas recognizing indigenous rights. Helping depleted species recover. Ensure that harvesting and trade in wild species is sustainable, safe and legal.
These are just the first five. Reducing pollution, minimizing the impact of climate change, and addressing subsidies that harm biodiversity, such as financing harmful agricultural practices, are also in place. And that’s still even half. Nobody said it would be easy.
The clock is ticking, because countries are supposed to achieve these goals by 2030. For that to happen, there also needs to be a plan for tracking progress along the way. This monitoring was missing from the agreement reached at the recent Conference of the Parties on Biodiversity, which is widely considered to be a large part of the reason That deal failed to materialize Any of its goals at the global level.
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Diplomatic moves of a small country. Rising sea levels threaten the very existence of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu with a population of just over 300,000 people. Head of state now He wants an international supreme court to consider it about whether states are legally obligated to protect others from climate hazards.
The text is full of parentheses separating terms or phrases that the parties have not yet agreed upon. Lots of parentheses. If you want to dive deep, Carbon Feed keeps track of them. With only a few days left (talks are due to end on Monday), the big question is whether they’ll be able to remove those brackets fast enough.
The most graceful push was one that would commit countries to protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. Some have claimed that the conference will make or break this goal; Others say it takes up a lot of oxygen. Either way, the percentage is still in parentheses.
Delegates from the governments of almost all countries of the world are present here (at least 190 of them). There are also representatives from Indigenous communities, non-profit groups, and businesses. And journalists! In all, about 17,000 people descended on Montreal for the event.
This is less than half the number who traveled to Egypt for the climate summit last month. And while presidents and prime ministers usually attend climate talks, the top officials here tend to be environment ministers.
Advocates had hoped to change that this year, and pushed heads of government to come and bring their political capital. But they didn’t succeed.
The pandemic has complicated and delayed talks. China currently holds the COP15 presidency, and the country’s Covid policies have made it difficult to get delegates from around the world together in person. That’s why the talks ended in Montreal. Canada stepped in to host, and the two countries together tried to cobble together the parties to an agreement.
The United States plays an odd role. Republicans have refused to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, the global agreement that mandates the meeting, so the US is one of only two countries not party to the talks. (The other is the Holy See). However, Monica Medina, the Assistant Secretary of State who was recently named Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources, is here with a team working from the sidelines.
In spite of everything, the Minister of the Environment of Ukraine, Ruslan Strelets, also succeeded. In a tragic moment on Thursday, he spoke about the heavy toll that the Russian invasion has taken on nature in his country.
What are the biggest sticking points?
Money is the main ingredient, though it is discussed using a term that tries to be more polite: “resource mobilization”.
The Europeans are the biggest financial players here. The European Union has committed €7 billion to international biodiversity financing until 2027. The EU is also pushing for ambitious targets. But the countries in the Global South are richest in actual biodiversity, and they want to make sure they have the funds to deliver on any promises. Research shows that hundreds of billions of additional dollars may be required annually.
There is a global fund in place, but this has been criticized by developing countries as difficult to access. They demand a new pot of money.
Earlier this week, countries in the Global South walked out of the meetings in protest. They say that rich countries demand the preservation of natural resources after reaping the benefits of being rich by exploiting them. The European Union opposes the creation of a new fund, saying it would lead to years of delay.
On Thursday, the US indicated that this year it had doubled its pledge to the existing fund (which is called the Global Environment Facility and helps developing countries address climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental issues), promising $600 million over the next four years. Ms Medina said a “large percentage” would go to nature and biodiversity.
Despite the tensions, some COP attendees with years of experience are calm, even optimistic. Others panic.
What is clear is that there is still a lot of work to do before the conclusion of the talks, which are scheduled to close on Monday. The organizers are already warning that they will go to extra work.
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