Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has called for a global agreement to conserve 30 per cent of Earth for nature, including land and water, by 2030.
The call was made at the opening ceremony of the UN summit on biodiversity, known as Cop15, which is being attended by almost 200 countries and is hosted by Canada and China in Montreal.
Talks on a global biodiversity framework agreement for the next decade opened on Wednesday with a firm message from Mr Trudeau to negotiators to bring the “30 per cent ambition” into a final agreement in a fortnight’s time.
“We have not chosen that 30 per cent number at random. It is the critical threshold according to the greatest scientists to avoid the risk of extinction and also to ensure our food and economic security. Thirty per cent, that is quite feasible,” he said.
The headline target has the backing of a coalition of more than 100 countries but has raised significant concerns among some indigenous peoples and human rights campaigners, who warn it could legitimise further land grabs and violence against communities shown to best protect nature.
Stressing the importance of all work to protect nature being reflective of indigenous ways of knowing and being in true partnership, Mr Trudeau announced C$350 million (€244 million) in new international biodiversity finance – interpreted as a critical signal that developed countries are willing to step up to support conservation efforts in developing countries.
A protest during his speech gave Mr Trudeau an opportunity to laud Canada’s approach to freedom of expression, reinforcing a message he delivered to Chinese president Xi Jinping during a confrontation between the two leaders last month.
About three minutes into his speech, a dozen indigenous protesters stood up in the hall, singing and brandishing a yellow sheet that read: “Indigenous genocide = ecocide. To save biodiversity, stop invading our lands.”
Mr Trudeau stopped speaking and waited as the protest continued for more than two minutes.
“As you can also see, Canada is a place of free expression where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly, and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspective,” he said.
Chinese minister of ecology and environment Huang Runqiu stressed the need for all at Cop15 to work together for a just and equitable global agreement for nature.
At the opening press conference on Tuesday, he said China took its role in helping countries forge a final agreement seriously, noting it had been a hard decision to move the talks from Kunming, China, due to the pandemic.
Canada’s environment minister, Steven Guilbeault said the 30 per cent aim would be equivalent to the 1.5-degree climate target, though this is disputed by some scientists and activists.
“We’re a big country with big ambitions,” Mr Guilbeault said. “We’ve committed as a country to protect 30 per cent of land and waters by 2030. We’re working in full partnership with Indigenous peoples, as well as provinces and territories.
“Our 1.5 degrees is protecting 30 per cent of lands and oceans by 2030. It is the biodiversity equivalent of the 1.5 degrees on climate change. And I think that’s one of our collective goals [for this summit],” he said.
UN Environment Programme director Inger Andersen thanked China and Canada “for bringing us to this crucial moment ... in which we need to agree on a plan to secure our life-support system [and] to make peace with nature”.
“We cannot afford to continue thrashing a path through the fragile web of nature and biodiversity to clear the way for human development,” she warned.
Cop15 was a chance “to start protecting and repairing the web of life”, Ms Andersen said.
Irish Wildlife Trust campaigns officer Pádraic Fogarty, an observer at Cop15, said the conference was to be part of a “super year for nature in 2020″ but had been delayed and demoted. There were speeches, including one from the only head of state in attendance, but people were tired of speeches when conditions continue to deteriorate on the ground, he added.
“The activists, nature defenders and scientists are not going away. There is determination that this conference produces something. We must get an agreement on what needs to be done and mechanisms to measure implementation; that would be progress,” Mr Fogarty said.
Ireland was talking about being part of a high-ambition coalition but it had to get its house in order, he said. The Government had not signed up to protecting 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030, and was sending mixed messages on the proposed new EU restoration law. – Additional reporting: Guardian