Countries meeting at the recently held UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal reached an agreement that observers believe represents a key step in protecting the world’s lands and oceans and bolsters efforts to safeguard the world’s climate.
Governments committed to protect 30% of land and water considered important for biodiversity by 2030. Currently, only 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas are protected.
The Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework also calls for raising $200 billion by 2030 for biodiversity from a range of sources and working to phase out or reform subsidies that could provide another $500 billion for nature.
As part of the financing package, the framework asks for increasing to at least $20 billion annually by 2025 the money that goes to poor countries. That number would increase to $30 billion each year by 2030.
Biodiversity COP15 as a “Paris Moment”
Land and marine ecosystems which are home to the vast majority of the world’s species – forests, peatlands, coastal areas and the ocean – absorb more than 50 per cent of man-made carbon emissions. This makes them vital to meeting the Paris Agreement’s central goal of holding global average temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial times.
At the same time, biodiversity plays a huge role in building resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, with nature-based solutions such as the protection of coral reefs and mangrove forests protect coastal communities from storms, flooding and erosion.
Elizabeth Mrema, head of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and Canada’s Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault, both described the conference as a “Paris moment for biodiversity”, in reference to the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate action. Under this Agreement, governments promised to develop sufficiently ambitious climate and strategies to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
Mrema also noted that more and more of the international biodiversity agenda is appearing in the discussions under climate COPs. In a first for a UN Climate Change Conference cover decision, governments meeting at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November recognised the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change. These are solutions that protect natural ecosystems that benefit people whilst contributing to tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity.
Non-Party stakeholders have key role to play in biodiversity and climate protection
Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, welcomed the agreement reached in Montreal and underscored the overlapping significance of the biodiversity and climate agendas.
“Nature and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin – the two go hand in hand. Climate change is negatively impacting biodiversity, and biodiversity is part of the solution to climate change. After decades of ecosystem destruction and plummeting biodiversity, the agreement reached at COP15 provides the framework to halt and reverse these trends. There is no turning back, no excuses for inaction. The direction of travel is clear,” he said.
However, the UN’s top climate change official cautioned that whilst international agreements on biodiversity and climate such as those reached at Biodiversity COP15 in Montreal and UNFCCC COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh are important, increased action by non-Party stakeholders such as cities, regions, businesses and investors is equally important:
“For biodiversity and for climate change, we need to see as much progress as possible within the intergovernmental process. But this alone is insufficient, and that is why we need to pay as much attention as possible to real action outside of the process, to what is happening the non-state actor space,” he added.
In this context, it is noteworthy that a number of retail and business associations announced pledges at Biodiversity COP15 to become accelerators for the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, designed to encourage governments and non-Party stakeholder to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Diane Holdorf, Executive Vice President, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said: “We can´t solve the biodiversity crisis without addressing climate, and with 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the retail sector, we need to accelerate the industry transformation.”
The next UN biodiversity summit will take place in 2024 and is expected to see countries strengthen financial commitments towards halting biodiversity loss.