A week after the start of the UN Biodiversity Conference, there is great progress at the World Conference on Nature in Montreal. Halfway through negotiations on a global nature conservation agreement, the chief negotiator for what is arguably the most important environmental treaty of the decade, Basile van Havre, expresses his optimism about the chances of success. There is no longer a state that wants to block an agreement, said van Havre in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “I am very confident that we will get an agreement,” he says with relief.
The willingness of all countries to reach an agreement would be a breakthrough. Because the adoption of a new global nature agreement requires unanimity, which de facto means the approval of the representatives of almost all of humanity. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has 196 members. Only the United States and the Vatican have not signed it.
However, it is still unclear how much a new agreement is actually worth. Chief negotiator van Havre admits that the question of how strong the new contract will be is still unclear even a few days before the planned adoption. Practically all of the decisive points of contention have not yet been resolved. “Now it’s up to the ministers,” the Canadian environmental diplomat continues.
From the middle of the week, environment ministers from more than 140 countries in Montreal want to settle the crucial issues on the way to the global agreement that species extinction stop and put nature altogether on a path of recovery. The large number of visiting ministers also shows the changed status of the subject of nature. Success in the fight against the destruction of habitats and the disappearance of more and more animal and plant species is now considered just as important for the survival and prosperity of mankind as limiting the climate crisis. According to calculations by the World Economic Forum, half of global economic power depends on the services of nature – from pollination by insects to the availability of clean drinking water.
30 percent target will probably be decided
A strong agreement to protect nature on the planet is also essential to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible, since intact ecosystems help to keep a large part of greenhouse gases in the ground or to break them down. The world’s forests alone store the equivalent of 100 years of human-caused carbon emissions.
A “Paris Agreement for Nature” concluded in Montreal, almost exactly seven years to the day after the climate agreement, would be doubly important: for nature and the climate.
One indispensable ingredient seems certain: the key goal of putting 30 percent of land and sea under protection in the future will in all likelihood be decided. “There is so much support for the 30×30 target that I doubt it will be passed or scaled back,” says van Havre, who is otherwise cautious about forecasts.
A mammoth task awaits the ministers
Despite this preliminary decision, the delegates leave the ministers with a mammoth task. Because hundreds of important questions about the design of the individual goals are still controversial. In addition to the question of how much area of the earth will be protected in the future, this also includes the no less important question of how strict protection should be there or by what percentage the use of environmentally harmful pesticides should be reduced.
In the negotiations, there are sometimes bitter arguments about practically all the details that will decide how ambitious the agreement will be in the end and how effective the desired protection of nature will be. Overall, the level of protection for nature is getting lower with each passing day of the negotiations, because the tightening mechanism demanded by Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke in the event that targets are missed seems to be off the table.
In the negotiations, which lasted late into the night, every word was often fought over. Opponents of a high level of ambition for the agreement, for example, managed to use semantics to significantly weaken the importance of certain guiding principles in a kind of preamble. The special rights of indigenous peoples, an approach based on human rights and the determination that all nature conservation goals must be based on scientific knowledge are no longer “principles and principles”, even legally binding ones, after the title has been changed, but merely non-binding “considerations”.
“The countries have weakened the quality of the principles for implementation without objection,” criticizes Greenpeace observer Jannes Stoppel. “Even in the first few days, the negotiations took a hit on the quality of the possible agreement,” he draws a critical interim balance. The task now is to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities using clearly measurable indicators in the individual goals. That this is more than a small thing is shown by the fact that 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity lies in areas populated by indigenous communities. The new designations of protected areas that are to be expected after the adoption of the 30 percent target seem to lie primarily in the species-rich refuges of indigenous groups on a global level.
progress on money
There are signs of progress in the question of financing more nature conservation in developing countries. It is seen as a crucial sticking point where the conclusion of an agreement could fail. The background to this is the fact that most of the remaining biodiversity is concentrated in the even less destroyed developing countries and that poor countries of all people should forego a development that is similarly harmful to nature, as has taken place in the industrialized countries, in favor of nature conservation. Financial aid from the rich north is intended to compensate them and finance the implementation of nature conservation measures. However, the ideas about the amount of support differ extremely widely. Developing countries are demanding $100 billion a year in direct aid. So far, this has been offset by commitments of less than eight billion dollars. After days of negotiations, there is now a proposal on the table to start with the financing and further support for the implementation of the agreement in the first two years after it comes into force and to negotiate at the same time the long-term payment obligations. This would initially defuse the dispute over the amount of the direct payments and at the same time ensure that the agreement was implemented quickly.
“This approach could break some of the ice for further negotiations and serve as a boost for the rapid implementation of the goals,” believes Greenpeace observer Stoppel.