Delegates at Cop15, this year’s UN biodiversity summit, which wrapped up in Montreal, Canada on Monday, treated themselves to a rare experience in the world of global summitry: reaching an international agreement on time. Hours before the conference’s scheduled conclusion, China, which held this year’s presidency, announced that countries had forged a landmark commitment to protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s nature by 2030. The goal, known as 30x30, will “mark history as Paris did for climate,” Canada’s environment minister said, referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to “well below 2, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels”.
Like the Paris Agreement, 30x30 has the advantage of a catchy name articulating a very simple – if also somewhat vague – goal. Previous biodiversity summits have disappointed hopes – not a single target from the more complicated agreement concluded at the conference in Aichi, Japan in 2010 has been met. Cop15 delegates hope that by taking a leaf from climate activists’ playbooks, they may have finally offered biodiversity campaigners something to work with.
But biodiversity can be a more fraught subject than climate change, in part because of how complex it is. Whereas the link between carbon emissions and the warming of the climate is by now well understood, scientists are still trying to grapple with the scale of the impact human activities have on plant and animal life. Apportioning responsibility is not as simple as measuring carbon dioxide levels.
Although the deal in Montreal was agreed quickly, getting there was not straightforward and some countries, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, protested the terms even after the conference ended. Much of the disagreement surrounded financing – the annual gap in funds needed to realise Cop15’s goal is estimated to be $700 billion. To address this, countries agreed to mobilise $200 billion a year in public and private funding by 2030, with higher-income countries contributing at least $30 billion a year. Some African countries, including the DRC, which are home to enormous and largely in-tact ecosystems, were concerned that the money would not be channelled through a separate biodiversity fund, but instead through an existing UN environment fund, the biggest beneficiaries of which are non-African countries.
Ensuring that the developing world, where so much of the remaining healthy natural environment is, is empowered to protect biodiversity without being disempowered economically is a challenge that featured heavily at the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt last month also. It is also one that is being taken far more seriously today than in previous decades’ discussions on the environment, along with indigenous rights. But the enduring challenge of biodiversity protection is, like all other environmental campaigns, how to inspire a shift in human culture.
It took decades for climate change to become a topic of conversation in millions of households around the world. That sense of familiarity and awareness will be integral to continued efforts to alter our behaviour. Biodiversity awareness is not there yet, but 30x30 provides the campaign for a more sustainable relationship with our plant and animal cohabitants with new impetus.