Cop15 sees increased backing for biodiversity protection

Co-hosts Canada accepts critical need for more financial support for developing countries

As it heads into its final weekend, the Cop15 biodiversity conference has been boosted by more countries rowing in on a move to protect 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030, with that ambition being backed by the promise of new funding from the developed world.

What is known as the “high ambition coalition for nature and people” now has 116 countries including the EU in its ranks with the significant backing of Canada – co-hosts of the UN summit. The US confirmed on Friday it would also support the target.

At a briefing, ministers from the coalition indicated they were confident the historic target of halting and reversing biodiversity loss by the end of the decade through the “30x30″ measure would be agreed. This would form the central element of a new global biodiversity framework (GBF) – and provide momentum for other critical measures to get across the line in coming days.

Canadian environment minister Steven Guilbeault said: “We are working to make Montreal nature’s Paris moment; 30x30 is our 1.5 degrees” – a reference to landmark Paris climate agreement.


He underlined Canada accepted this would not be possible without the backing of sufficient resources. As a consequence, it was increasing its international biodiversity contribution to more than €1 billion.

UK minister for climate and environment Zac Goldsmith said political will behind 30x30 was rapidly growing. He said: “I believe we will agree it.”

But he warned of the huge economic costs globally of failure: “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity and a responsibility to put the world on the pathway [to halt and reverse biodiversity] this decade; 30x30 is a crucial part of that ... We cannot afford to leave Montreal without banking this commitment.”

While developing countries, who temporarily walked out of the talks earlier this week because of lack of progress on “resource mobilisation”, acknowledged an improvement in trust among parties because of new funding commitments, the specific protection target has yet to be incorporated into a draft GBF text.

UN deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed said on Thursday ongoing tension around public financing to save nature stemmed from a “trust deficit” because wealthier countries had failed to fulfil their financing promises to developing nations in the past.

France’s minister of environment and ecological transition Christophe Béchu echoed concerns about insufficient ambition. “Without ambition there is no conserving biodiversity. There is no halting and reversing biodiversity loss.”

With increased funding from governments, private sources and philanthropists confirmed on Friday, he said: “This must give reassurance to countries hesitating on supporting the targets ... Cop15 has to be the moment to turn the tide.”

The coalition represents close to two-thirds of the globe and has been one of the strongest voices for a strong GBF throughout the negotiations, with full respect for Indigenous rights.

Environment minister for Costa Rica Franz Tattenbach Capra said supporting countries had agreed to set up a secretariat to mobilise for 30x30 and to provide a one-stop shop for protected areas backed by capacity building to support “actions on the ground”.

Chile’s environment Maisa Rojas explained the target was “a condition to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees” – and in turn a condition for protecting global biodiversity. They should not leave Montreal without copper-fastening that link, she said.

US envoy for biodiversity Monica P Medina confirmed the US was supporting the target and backing “getting the job done” with critical conservation goals – the Biden administration has committed to 30x30 despite not being part of UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

While funding pledges have increased in recent days including promises to increase overseas development aid specifically for nature restoration and building biodiversity resilience, deep disagreements remain. They including divisions about whether to create a new global biodiversity fund, or channel critical financing through the 30-year-old Global Environment Facility.

“Funding continues to be the most difficult discussion in every negotiation these days, particularly at the time when there is a looming economic recession in key countries,” according to Marco Lambertini of the World Wildlife Fund.

The “majority of the funding needs are in the Global South, where there is a higher level of biodiversity and less means to protect it. There is no doubt that the conference should agree on increasing the funding for biodiversity to the South”, he added.

“On the other hand, we need to finance biodiversity and greening finance, meaning making sure that the financial flows that today are spent on agriculture, fishing, infrastructure, forestry, subsidies and investments are actually driving nature-positive transitions, transitions and practices that are in balance with the natural world,” Mr Lambertini said.

The draft GBF includes four broad goals around protecting nature and sharing its benefits. It also includes 22 targets ranging from the sustainable use and management of wild species to the restoration of destroyed habitats, using fewer plastics and pesticides and expanding urban green spaces.

The biggest and most contentious targets, however, are 30x30 and the extent of financing. It is understood the EU through much of Friday was pushing countries to commit to 30x30, while some countries want reassurance on “sustainable use” provisions tied into what is to be protected – or even “allowable intensification”.

There is expectation that ministers gathering in Montreal will attempt to unlock sticking points over the weekend to enable negotiating groups sign off on more text to be incorporated into a final deal.

Meanwhile, the Australian and US governments have signed an agreement on the sidelines of Cop15 promising to better measure the economic value of nature and reflect it in national accounts.

Australian environment minister Tanya Plibersek said the two countries would work together to develop a global standard for measuring the amount of nature, its condition and its economic contribution to jobs and wellbeing.

“People around the world rely on nature for their livelihoods, so it doesn’t make sense that our economy doesn’t properly recognise the dollar value of nature. It should,” Ms Plibersek said. “If we get this right, the work by Australia and the United States could be adopted worldwide.”

The end goal is for natural capital to be factored into national economic measures, she added.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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