MONTREAL, Quebec – Remember the big climate talks in Egypt last month? Another hugely important environmental summit is taking place in Canada. It is also about a global crisis that threatens life on earth but receives far less attention: the rampant human-caused loss of biodiversity. This means not only species extinction, but also a dramatic decline in the diversity of life on the planet.
Don’t stop reading out of fear! The Montreal biodiversity talks, known as COP15 because it is the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, could yield the most significant global agreement to protect and restore nature in history.
You could also end up with something far less ambitious.
They might even fall apart.
Keep reading anyway, because what’s happening over the next few days at a Montreal convention center has a lot to do with life on earth. (To understand better, read this visual article on habitat loss.)
What is the goal of the talks?
Ultimately, the goal is a new 10-year agreement that would allow the world to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. There is no silver bullet for this, so negotiators are fiercely debating the details of about 20 targets that would collectively tackle the problem.
Manage land and oceans more sustainably. Restoration of degraded areas. Creation of new protected areas while recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples. Help exhausted species to recover. Ensuring that harvesting and trading of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal.
That’s just the first five. Reducing pollution, minimizing the impact of climate change and tackling subsidies that harm biodiversity, such as funding harmful agricultural practices, are also included. And that’s not even half. Nobody said it would be easy.
The clock is ticking as countries are expected to achieve these targets by 2030. There must also be a plan in place to track progress along the way. Such monitoring was absent from the agreement reached at the last Biodiversity COP, which is widely regarded as a key reason why this agreement failed to meet any of its goals at the global level.
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The diplomatic moves of a tiny nation. The rising sea level is threatening the existence of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu and its just over 300,000 inhabitants. The country’s president now wants a top international court to weigh up whether states have a legal obligation to protect others from climate risks.
Switch to renewables. According to the International Energy Agency, global renewable energy capacity growth is projected to double by 2027, adding as much renewable energy over the next five years as it has over the past two decades. Renewable energy is poised to overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation by early 2025, the agency noted.
The Saudi strategy. Despite the scientific consensus that the world needs to move off fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of global warming, Saudi Arabia is using lobbying, research funding and diplomatic activity to keep oil at the center of the world economy.
US climate threats. The effects of climate change are already “widespread and worsening” in the United States, posing risks to virtually every aspect of society, according to a draft report being circulated by the federal government. The United States has warmed 68 percent faster than the Earth as a whole over the past 50 years, the draft report said.
The text is full of brackets delimiting terms or phrases that the parties have yet to agree on. So many brackets. If you want to go on a deep dive, Carbon Brief has you covered. With only a few days left (talks are set to end on Monday), a big question is whether they’ll be able to remove those staples fast enough.
The splashiest push was one that would commit countries to protecting 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030. Some have claimed that the conference will achieve that goal or fall; others say it uses far too much oxygen. In any case, the percentage is still in brackets.
Delegates from the governments of almost every country in the world are here (at least 190 of them). There are also representatives from indigenous communities, non-profit groups and businesses. And journalists! A total of about 17,000 people came to Montreal for this event.
That’s less than half of those who traveled to Egypt for the climate summit last month. And while presidents and prime ministers usually attend the climate talks, the senior officials here tend to be environment ministers.
Proponents had hoped to change that this year, urging government leaders to attend and lend their political capital. But they were unsuccessful.
The pandemic has complicated and delayed talks. China is currently chairing COP15 and the country’s Covid policies have made it difficult to bring together delegates from around the world in person. That is why the Montreal talks ended; Canada acted as host and together the two countries have tried to get the parties to reach an agreement.
The United States plays a strange role. Republicans have refused to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, the global compact that calls for the meeting, making the United States one of only two countries not participating in the talks. (The other is the Holy See.) Still, Monica Medina, an assistant secretary of state who was also recently appointed special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, is here with a team, working from the sidelines.
Despite everything, the Minister of the Environment of Ukraine, Ruslan Strilets, also made it. In a dramatic moment on Thursday, he spoke of the terrible toll the Russian invasion had taken on nature in his country.
What are the biggest sticking points?
Money is paramount, although 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 pledged €7 billion in international biodiversity funding up to 2027. The bloc is also pushing for ambitious goals. But the countries of the Global South are the richest in actual biodiversity, and they want to make sure they have the cash to deliver on any promises. Research shows that hundreds of billions of additional dollars per year could be required.
There is a global fund, but developing countries have criticized it 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 wealthy countries demand conservation of natural resources after reaping the benefits of getting rich through exploitation. The European Union opposes a new fund that would entail years of delays.
On Thursday, the United States noted that this year it will double its pledge to the current fund (dubbed the Global Environment Facility, which helps developing countries address climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems) and $600 million US dollars have promised next four years. “A huge percentage” would go to nature and biodiversity, Ms Medina said.
Despite the tensions, some participants with years of COP experience are calm, even optimistic. Others feel insecure.
It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before the talks are concluded on Monday. The organizers are already warning of extensions.