Reaching a deal at the critical UN Cop15 on biodiversity in Canada looked so unlikely just 36 hours ago that any kind of agreement might have been welcomed. So the fairly substantial ‘Montreal-Kunming’ pact signed yesterday looks like a triumph.
The conference had been staring the collapse of our natural support systems in the face for 10 days. Against all the odds, presented by vested interests and culpable apathy, a significant shift occurred.
It is still too little to turn the tide of mass extinction and ecosystem breakdown humanity has unleashed, and implementation will be hugely challenging. But it is a roadmap. If followed faithfully, it could reach the beginning of what American biologist EO Wilson described as “the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us.”
This conference had been due to take place in China two years ago, 10 years after the last major biodiversity COP, which set the ‘Aichi targets’, not one of which has been fully realised. The Covid-19 pandemic finally transferred it to Montreal.
There was well-founded comment on poor preparation by Beijing. But it appears to have been a daring, if less than transparent, strategy by the Chinese chairperson that pushed through the deal, despite voluble opposition, even after the gavel fell, from several African countries.
Similarly to last month’s Cop27 on climate, the biggest rift was over how much, and how, the developed world should financially support protection and restoration in the poorer countries, home to most biodiversity. An EU-led move doubling North-South biodiversity financing by 2025, and tripling it by 2030, broke the deadlock.
Another significant advance was the commitment to end $500 million in “perverse funding” – subsidies that promote activities that destroy biodiversity like over-intensified agriculture and polluting industries. The thorny issue of compensating developing countries for the artificial reproduction by rich countries of active biological agents found in, for example, tropical plants with medicinal benefits, was advanced just enough to prevent it blocking agreement. And while corporations will not be obliged to account for the damage they do to nature, many will now do so voluntarily, using an agreed framework.
The signature section of the deal, and claimed as its ‘Paris moment’, was the potentially landmark decision nicknamed ‘30x30′, a commitment to protect and restore 30 per cent of the world’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030. That would indeed be a game-changer. But the devil will be in the delivery of such targets. Prosperous countries like Ireland, with stable systems of governance, must lead by example and urgently move to enforce the environmental regulations we have so miserably flouted up to now.