Avoiding climate breakdown depends on protecting Earth’s biodiversity—can the COP15 summit deliver?:
Thousands of delegates have gathered in Montreal, Canada, for a once-in-a-decade chance to address the accelerating pace of species loss and the dangers of ecosystem breakdown. COP15 brings together parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with a goal of negotiating this decade’s biodiversity targets and a new global framework for biodiversity protection. The summit risks being overshadowed by the recently concluded COP27 on climate change, but the issues are linked and the importance of biodiversity protection cannot be overstated. About one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. Not only are our activities driving this mass extinction, its consequences also threaten our own health and survival. COP15 needs to mark a step change in how quickly and how seriously the international community responds to catastrophic nature loss. The focus is expected to be on 30×30, a push to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by the end of this decade.
According to the Guardian UK’s reporters Daisy Dunne and Dr Giuliana Viglione, this proposal is backed by 114 countries, including Canada. But there are challenges. Some groups argue that protecting 30% of the world’s land and sea doesn’t go far enough. For example, Karl Burkart, deputy director of the NGO One Earth, likened a goal of protecting 50% to the Paris agreement’s highest ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5C. “30% to me really does feel like the 2°C and 50% is the 1.5°C,” he told a press conference held at the summit on Friday. Then there’s the question of which land to protect. Will countries chose to protect lands that are already biodiverse and ecologically significant, or designate brownfields for protection? And where does the target apply – to the whole world, or should it be specific to each country? What does land protection do to Indigenous rights? Past efforts to set aside areas for conservation have often meant dispossessing Indigenous peoples who have successfully stewarded the lands for centuries or millenia. COP15 recognizes the role that Indigenous peoples play in land stewardship, but there is no guarantee this will translate to effective protection for the rights of Indigenous peoples in each country that choses to adopt 30×30. Things become even murkier when we consider protection of the world’s oceans, 60% of which fall outside any nation’s jurisdiction. The UN’s nature body has no power over the high seas, and signatories to the treaty can only carry out actions within their own national boundaries.
It remains to be seen how all this will shake out in the final agreement.