Progress on Biodiversity Agreement to Conserve 30% of Planet’s Land and Oceans Painfully Slow, Decisions Postponed to June   
Delegates at the CBD Geneva talk.

Two weeks of negotiations in Geneva over a critical new agreement to protect and conserve some 30% of the planet’s land and oceans spaces by 2030 have yielded only halting progress – with the parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) agreeing to meet again in Nairobi in late June. 

The Nairobi meeting, 21-26 June, will be the last, critical session before the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Kunming, China – where a new, landmark agreement on is supposed to be finalized, following a two year delay due to the pandemic. The new framework has been billed as the biodiversity equivalent of the 2015 Paris Climate deal, but the delay in talks and negotiations have not helped its profile.  

Some 91 countries and the European Union, have publicly supported incorporating a “30×30” agreement into the CBD – as part of the “High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People”. Observers said a number of new countries from the Caribbean, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America also had expressed support for the target at the Geneva meeting, which ended on Wednesday.  

But with the exception of India, the influential BRICS bloc, including Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa, have refrained from supporting the goal.  Nor are the BRICS among the 72 members of the Global Ocean Alliance (GOA), which has publicly supported a 30×30 target for the world’s oceans. 

The proposed 30×30 framework has been portrayed by biodiversity advocates as equivalent to the 2015 Paris Climate deal in terms of its significance. 

The Convention on Biodiversity, however, lacks the high political profile of its sister climate agreement, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  A two-year delay in convening the recent negotiations, due to the pandemic, have not helped.  

“There is an emerging consensus in support of the science-based proposal to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030, which is encouraging,” said Brian O’Donnell, Director of Campaign for Nature, one of the groups that has been lobbying for the 30x 30 proposal. 

However, he said that the progress with the negotiations had been “painfully slow”, and the level of ambition with financing is “woefully inadequate”.

“Unfortunately, the negotiations in Geneva have not reflected the urgency that is needed to successfully confront the crisis facing our natural world,” O’Donnell said.  

One million species at risk of extinction 

Delegates at the negotiations meeting, UN CBD, Geneva.

Scientists warn that without more assertive action by the nations of the world, rapid overdevelopment will lead to the extinction of another one million species within decades.

Rapid deforestation and consequent losses of natural habitat, coupled with climate change, have already pushed major species like giraffes and koalas into the ‘endangered’ category. Currently, there are 17 critically endangered animal species while over two-dozen species are considered “endangered”, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). That has made it imperative that the 30% target be achieved as the absolute minimum amount of conservation needed to curb global biodiversity loss, according to a recent paper in Science Advances. 

In January 2021, a group of scientists from around the world issued a stark warning that “humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity, and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life.”

This year, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report further underlined the urgency of addressing the biodiversity crisis which is deeply interrelated with climate change. The number of endemic species subject to “very high extinction risks” in biodiversity hotspots is projected to at least double from 2% between 1.5°C and 2°C global warming levels and to increase at least tenfold if warming rises from 1.5°C to 3°C. 

For instance, according to another recent study of satellite imagery of the Amazon forest, deforestation and climate change, via increasing dry-season length and drought frequency, may already have pushed the Amazon close to a critical threshold of rainforest regeneration. When forests dies, so do the animal and insect species living in them – or else they relocate to areas inhabited by humans, bringing new pathogens with them. 

Increased risk of disease outbreaks

In terms of health, environmental health experts have also pointed to the increased risks of disease outbreaks, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, as the loss of biodiversity also means the loss of the natural system of checks and balances that keep many diseases under control. 

Notably, continued ecosystem destruction along with unsafe and unsustainable patterns of food production are bringing more and more people into closer contact with viruses and pathogens harboured by animals in the wild – from SARS-CoV2 that may have spread to humans via the sale and slaughter of wild animals in Chinese wet markets, to Ebola virus in Africa, which infects humans via bushmeat slaughter and consumption, among other factors. 

Square brackets, late nights and talks in circles

In the two-weeks of Geneva meetings, talks sometimes went up to 3 a.m with inconclusive endings, followed by new suggestions for the text. Some paragraphs had up to 30 square brackets, which implies that governments were yet to agree on the language. 

The final draft text showed a large portion of the framework’s 21 targets still in square brackets which pimples a lack of formal agreement, said those who saw the agreement. Continued areas of disagreement also included specific goals for reducing pesticide use and goals for removing billions of dollars in national government agricultural subsidies that incentivise farmers to destroy habitats. 

The COP 15 in Kunming is seen as an important stage for finalising new targets, more ambitious than the previous CBDs.

In 2002, the CBD convention in Montreal committed to achieve a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but failed to meet the targets. Targets that were set for 2020 in the 2010 Aichi Convention– which included protecting 17% of the planet’s land surfaces and 10% of the ocean– were also missed. This makes the Kunming summit even more important in drawing a line in the sand over the rapid loss of habitat and species loss, by setting new targets for 2030. 

Among the 2030 targets, the proposal to protect or conserve at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans is a flagship initiative. Even so, it would not be binding on any single nation;  countries would determine their contributions in accordance with their national circumstances.

However, another note of progress at the meeting in Geneva was an agreement by countries to add the term ‘equitably governed’ to the text, in response to requests from indigenous leaders, as well as adding the phrase ‘giving effect to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities’ to underscore the that implementation of the 30×30 dovetail with human rights protections. 

“There is growing recognition of the need to better safeguard the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, who must be central to achieving the world’s biodiversity goals,” said O’Donnell.

Image Credits: UN CBD Twitter .

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