China makes big play to secure Cop15 biodiversity pact in final hours

‘By including 30% target in draft text it makes largest commitment to ocean and land conservation in history’

China, which is leading negotiations on a global biodiversity pact, issued a “draft decision” on Sunday in a last-minute attempt to push through an agreement of substance.

The move at the Cop15 conference is backed by hundreds of billions of dollars directed toward conserving the world’s wild places and species. The potential landmark outcome, a move to protect 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030 – known as “30x30″ – is in the text.

With Cop15 due to close on Monday, this gives negotiators seeking an ambitious outcome momentum in attempting to nail it down, backed by specific targets in other areas, during the closing hours – Cop15 is to close at midnight on Monday.

The move by the Chinese presidency hosting the talks in Montreal lifted the mood among negotiators from 196 countries, though no further targets were added over the weekend and headline targets are still being “heavily disputed”, according to sources close to the negotiations.


The 30x30 commitment was widely welcomed, notably by environmental groups. It offers that the prospect of biodiversity loss being halted and reversed by the end of the decade.

“By including a target to protect and conserve at least 30 per cent of the world’s lands and oceans, the draft text makes the largest commitment to ocean and land conservation in history,” said Campaign for Nature director Brian O’Donnell. “Conservation on this scale gives nature a chance. If approved the outlook for leopards, butterflies, sea turtles, forests and people will markedly improve.”

As parties finalise and approve this text, he encouraged them to add language clarifying that this target sets at least 30 per cent as a target for land areas and at least 30 per cent for the ocean.

“The science is clear that this 30 per cent figure must relate to both in order to ensure the right level of ambition and to effectively respond to the biodiversity crisis,” Mr O’Donnell said. The text “accurately reflects an ambitious approach and a compromise position that has a chance of getting through the negotiations,” he said. “I give them credit for navigating a really difficult challenge.”

By including strong language safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and recognising indigenous and traditional territories, the text also provides an opportunity for a new era of partnership, respect and rights-based conservation, he believed. “This could be the paradigm shift that scientists and indigenous leaders have been calling for.”

The draft text for a global biodiversity framework (GBF), based on the past two weeks of talks, sets a crucial financial target of $200 billion per year for conservation initiatives, though demands less from wealthy countries than some developing states had wanted. Agreement on a new biodiversity fund, however, was beyond reach.

Governments now need to hammer out the details of the 23 proposed targets through Monday. Policymakers still retain hope a deal can spur nature conservation the same way that the Paris climate agreement of 2015 helped mobilise efforts to limit planet-warming carbon emissions. The EU, including Irish negotiators, were poring over the text on Sunday night before delivering their response.

The text suggests harmful subsidies for the fossil fuel, agriculture and fisheries sectors should be reduced by at least $500 billion per year by the decade’s end but does not specify whether they should be eliminated, phased out or reformed. This redirection of funding could go a long way in addressing a $700 billion gap for global biodiversity actions.

Other proposals include directing policymakers to “encourage and enable” businesses to monitor, assess and disclose how they affect and are affected by biodiversity, but not making these processes mandatory.

Tony Goldner, who heads the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures – a group working on a framework for companies to manage and disclose economic risks related to nature – said a number of countries and financial firms would move toward mandatory disclosure anyway. “At an institutional level the train has left the station in any case because financial institutions are increasingly aware that nature risk is sitting on their balance sheets.”

The text envisages risks from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals would be reduced by at least half, but it does not address cutting their overall use.

More international finance needed

Mark Opel, finance lead for Campaign for Nature, said progress had been made on commitments from countries and philanthropists to double international biodiversity finance, which would be doubled to €20 billion by 2025 and reach €30 billion by 2030.

But OECD countries needed to make stronger financial commitments to back the increased ambition from Canada, the EU, Germany, France and others, he added.

Less than a third of OECD countries had increased their financial support, and he singled out Austria; Finland, Belgium, Israel and Ireland “and many others”. Separately Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UAE and China needed to give more over the next decade, he believed.

“There can be no free riders here,” Mr Opel added.

These countries had said they wanted an ambitious global biodiversity framework; it was “now is the time to commit and to fund”, he added. “Nature depends on it, and the world will be watching.”

The Chinese presidency has issued five “non-papers” to progress the negotiations on the GBF; a monitoring framework, on equitable sharing of digitised genetic information (known as DSI), resource mobilisation and capacity building, which “represent a negotiating package”.

Parties were invited on Sunday to give their views on the papers. It is understood many parties noted that “although the proposed GBF is not perfect it presents a balance output of deliberations”.

There are still, however, divergent views on the level of ambition of the GBF, the level of finance available and the mechanisms through which the finance will be delivered, it has been confirmed.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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