Biodiversity has won… on paper

Bringing together the member countries of the United Nations around the promise to protect 30% of terrestrial and marine environments by 2030, in addition to committing to raise at least 200 billion per year to support developing countries: this is a challenge that seemed rise to the impossible mission, but which fits well and truly black on white on the Kunming-Montreal agreement, concluded on Monday night. In itself, this progress is spectacular, even if the true test lies in the implementation of the promises.

After 10 days of intense negotiations, the hosts of the COP15 which concluded on Monday have quickly dusted off a fashionable qualifier. “Historic”, the agreement is “historic”, they proudly proclaimed when initialing the standard agreement bringing together the international community around the same goal. It is true that this is the first time that so many countries have been rallied around a text of 23 objectives aimed at such an ambitious target in terms of biodiversity protection, over which a serious threat hovers. In that sense, yes, it is historic. This is the first time that such a sum has been secured so that the most vulnerable countries, and whose rich biodiversity is established, can also activate local conservation levers. It kind of marks history. It is also the first time that an article of the agreement qualifies Aboriginal peoples as guardians of diversity and aims to protect their rights within the framework of local agreements. A page of history has been turned.

This agreement, however, will only reach the full measure of its historical character when the objectives are achieved, in the very biological and undiplomatic universe of terrestrial and marine environments. This is a serious time, as experts claim that 70% of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded by humans, and more than a million species are threatened. The efforts to be made to match words with actions are therefore colossal: in eight years, it will be necessary to achieve targets for the protection of 30% of land, freshwater, coastal and marine environments, whereas at present, only 17% of terrestrial ecosystems and about 10% of marine environments are protected. It’s giga-meta-supra ambitious! Unfortunately, the Paris Agreement, to which the Kunming-Montreal Agreement is compared in terms of audacity and scope, still remains flamboyant on paper, but its desire to limit global warming to +1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era remains a utopia: only a handful of countries respect the commitment made in 2015, and the United Nations predicts a warming that could exceed 2.5°C if all the countries committed to the international treaty respect their word.

It is therefore in the follow-up to the ambitious commitments made this week that the success of this agreement lies, which we know depends not only on the financial capacity of the countries concerned to implement the required changes, but also — and above all — in the firmness of the local political will. The courage to act is not as contagious as all the diseases affecting the planet, alas.

The issue of funding made the end of the talks, initiated since 2019, rather difficult. It was to be expected. Initially, a coalition led by Brazil demanded $100 billion a year from rich countries, paid into a new multilateral fund; many opposed it as much for the sum as for the form. The Kunming-Montreal agreement now provides for the disbursement of at least 200 billion per year by 2030 in public and private funds. The payment of the sums will go into a branch of the Global Environment Facility, the operation of which has been criticized. This compromise proposed by China at the end of the race made it possible to achieve not unanimity, but a solid consensus. A A follow-up mechanism will be necessary, because this financial question is crucial to protect the very rich ecosystems of countries with too modest means.

In Canada, the Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, is aware that it is indeed up to the member countries to ensure that all these commitments are implemented. Canada has adopted framework legislation aimed at ensuring the transparency and accountability of its government in its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. It will have to do the same for its promises in terms of biodiversity protection and its status of host country, in support of China, which was unable to host the event, puts it in the spotlight. If its track record isn’t perfect in terms of environmental protection, because it can’t manage to get rid of the annoying label of an oil country that is still closely linked to its hydrocarbon industry, here’s a great opportunity to put forward concrete commitments in a sincere and prompt manner.

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Biodiversity has won… on paper