Cop15: Deal secured to halt destruction of Earth’s ecosystems

Agreement signals big changes to farming, supply chains and role of Indigenous communities in conservation, but some countries say it doesn’t go far enough

A global agreement to protect 30 per cent of the world’s lands, seas, coasts and inland waters by 2030 has been agreed at Cop15 in a historic deal that aims to halt biodiversity loss and the decline of nature.

The measures agreed at the UN conference in Montreal in the early hours of Monday also include a pledge to scale up the flow of finance to developing nations to care for nature.

There are also targets to halve global food waste, excess nutrients that give rise to pollution and risks posed by pesticides, by the end of the decade.

The 196 countries, including the EU (and Ireland), have also committed to reduce to “near zero” the loss of areas of wildlife-rich habitat, and reduce by $500 billion a year Government subsidies that harm nature – currently these supports amount to an estimated $1.8 trillion.


Governments have signed a once-in-a-decade deal under the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to halt destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems, but the agreement seems to have been forced through by the Chinese president despite objections from some African states.

After more than four years of negotiations, repeated delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the countries backed an agreement after two weeks of talks co-hosted by Canada and China to put humanity on a path to living in harmony with nature by the middle of the century.

In an extraordinary plenary – with all parties present – that began on Sunday evening and lasted for more than seven hours, countries wrangled over the final agreement. Finally, at about 3.30am local time, a breakthrough was announced.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appeared to block the final deal presented by China before, moments later, China’s environment minister and the Cop15 president Huang Runqiu signalled the agreement was finished and agreed, and negotiators burst into applause as the gavel was brought down at 4.25am.

Negotiators from Cameroon, Uganda and the DRC expressed incredulity that the agreement had been put through. The DRC said it had formally objected to the agreement, but a UN lawyer said it had not. The negotiator from Cameroon called it “a fraud”, while Uganda said there had been a “coup d’état” against the Cop15.

Amid plummeting insect numbers, acidifying oceans filled with plastic waste, and the rampant overconsumption of the planet’s resources as humanity’s population grows wealthier and soars past eight billion, the agreement – if implemented – could signal major changes to farming, business supply chains and the role of Indigenous communities in conservation.

None of the previous agreement commitments known as the Aichi targets secured in 2010 were achieved by 2020 as planned, mainly due to lack of funding. What is known as the Montreal-Kunming agreement has been the subject of a major push to change the years of failure, apathy and environmental destruction.

The critical targets arising from Cop15 are to protect 30 per cent of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, and restore 30 per cent of the planet’s degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems.

Governments also agreed urgent actions to halt human-caused extinctions of species known to be under threat and to promote their recovery. The deal follows scientific warnings that humans are causing the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, the largest loss of life since the time of the dinosaurs.

Canada’s Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental campaigner who played a pivotal role, said the pact was a “bold step forward to protect nature”.

“Just six months ago, we didn’t know if we were going to even be able to have this conference and or even less to be able to adopt this historic document. And this was only possible through the collaboration of all countries present here tonight,” he added.

In echoes of last month’s Cop27 climate summit, divisions over money were the main sticking point in the final hours. EU member states including Ireland and countries from the global north pushed for ambitious conservation targets in the final text, with co-hosts Canada saying that the success of the summit depended on the headline target to protect 30 per cent of Earth by the end of the decade for nature, known as 30x30.

“We were surprised that [the text] is actually capturing most of the things we want to go for,” a delegate from a European country told Climate Home News. On restoration, he noted the text went with a more ambitious target of 30 per cent, instead of 20 per cent, which “is really good and ambitious and necessary”.

Countries from the global south, including Brazil, Indonesia and the DRC – “mega-diverse” countries home to the world’s three largest rainforests – wanted governments to agree to the creation of new biodiversity fund as part of the Montreal pact to pay for new conservation targets.

In the final agreement, countries decided to create a new fund within the UN’s main existing biodiversity financing mechanism – the global environment facility – and commit to future talks about a separate fund. Rich countries agreed to provide $30 billion of aid for biodiversity by the end of the decade, believed to be a trebling of current levels.

Although the agreement is not legally binding, governments will be tasked with showing their progress on meeting the targets with national biodiversity plans, akin to nationally determined contributions, which countries use to show progress on meeting the Paris climate agreement.

Observers, however, expressed disappointment at the weaker-than-hoped-for language on consumption and pesticide use, both significant drivers of biodiversity loss. The term “nature positive”, which some scientists had said would be the biodiversity equivalent of “net zero”, did not appear in the agreement.

Alongside the nature targets, countries reached a significant agreement to develop a financial mechanism for sharing the benefits from drug discoveries, vaccines and food products that come from digital forms of biodiversity, known as digital sequence information after rows about biopiracy in the lead-up to Cop15.

Businesses should also be asked to assess and disclose how they affect and are affected by nature loss, the agreement notes, but does not make such reporting mandatory.

The adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework and the associated package of ambitious targets, goals and financing “represents but a first step in resetting our relationship with the natural world”, said UN Environment Programme director Inger Andersen, who played a prominent role at Cop15.

“Success will be measured by our rapid and consistent progress in implementing, what we have agreed to. The entire UN system is geared to support its implementation so that we can truly make peace with nature,” she added.

“For far too long humanity has paved over, fragmented, over-extracted and destroyed the natural world on which we all depend. Now is our chance to shore up and strengthen the web of life, so it can carry the full weight of generations to come.”

Actions taken for nature were actions to reduce poverty; to achieve the UN sustainable development goals and to improve human health. “This is but one indivisible package,” Ms Andersen added. – Additional reporting: Guardian

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times