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Negotiators at a U.N. biodiversity conference reach a historic deal to protect nature

The head table gets set to open the high level segment at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal on Dec. 15, 2022.
Ryan Remiorz
/
AP
The head table gets set to open the high level segment at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal on Dec. 15, 2022.

MONTREAL — Negotiators reached a historic deal at a U.N. 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 comes a day before the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, is set to end in Montreal. China, which holds the presidency at this conference, released a new draft earlier in the day that gave the sometimes contentious talks much-needed momentum.

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

"There has never been a conservation goal globally at this scale," Brian O'Donnell, the director of the conservation group Campaign for Nature, told reporters. "This puts us within a chance of safeguarding biodiversity from collapse ... We're now within the range that scientists think can make a marked difference in biodiversity."

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

Some advocates wanted tougher language around subsidies that make food and fuel so cheap in many parts of the world. The document only calls for identifying subsidies by 2025 that can be reformed or phased out and working to reduce them by 2030.

"The new text is a mixed bag," Andrew Deutz, director of global policy, institutions and conservation finance for The Nature Conservancy, said. "It contains some strong signals on finance and biodiversity but it fails to advance beyond the targets of 10 years ago in terms of addressing drivers of biodiversity loss in productive sectors like agriculture, fisheries, and infrastructure and thus still risks being fully transformational."

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 1 out of 5 people of the world's 8 billion population depend on those species for food and income, the report said.

But they have 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 contentions issues, with delegates from 70 African, South American and Asian countries walking out of negotiations Wednesday. They returned several hours later.

Brazil, speaking for developing countries during the week, said in a statement that a new funding mechanism dedicated to biodiversity should be established and that developed countries provide $100 billion annually in financial grants to emerging economies until 2030.

"All the elements are in there for a balance of unhappiness which is the secret to achieving agreement in U.N. bodies," Pierre du Plessis, a negotiator from Namibia who is helping coordinate the African group, told The Associated Press. "Everyone got a bit of what they wanted, not necessarily everything they wanted. Let's see if there is there is a spirit of unity."

Others praised the fact the document recognizes the rights of Indigenous communities. In past biodiversity documents, indigenous rights were often ignored and they rarely were part of the larger discussions other than a reference to their traditional knowledge. The framework would reaffirm the rights of Indigenous peoples and ensure they have a voice in any decision making.

"It's important for the rights of Indigenous peoples to be there, and while it's not the exact wording of that proposal in the beginning, we feel that it is a good compromise and that it addresses the concerns that we have," Jennifer Corpuz, a representative of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity said. "We believe that it's a good basis for us to be able to implement policy at the national level."

But the Wildlife Conservation Society and other environmental groups were concerned that the draft puts off until 2050 a goal of preventing the extinction of species, preserving the integrity of ecosystems and maintaining the genetic diversity within populations. They fear that timeline is not ambitions enough.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press