With four days left to reach a new global agreement to conserve and restore nature, the marquee targets under negotiation at COP15 in Montreal remain elusive.
More than 100 government ministers joined the talks on Thursday and Friday morning, a parade of them taking the microphone to promise they are very committed to achieving a new agreement to protect the earth’s natural landscapes and wild species.
But the agreement that something has to be done is coming up against deep disagreements about how to do it.
The deepest divide appears to be between developing countries that want to create a new global biodiversity fund and developed nations that believe the critical financing can be channelled through the 30-year-old Global Environment Fund.
That standoff deepened Wednesday when dozens of developing countries walked away from the talks to protest what they believed were lacklustre commitments from the world’s wealthiest nations.
After an emergency negotiating session, they returned to the table Wednesday evening. But Thursday, developed nations led by the European Union made clear a new fund was not in the cards.
“What’s extremely important is that there is no new fund,” said Virginijus Sinkevicus, environment commissioner at the European Commission.
He said it took seven to eight years to negotiate the Global Environment Fund, and creating a new fund would delay implementation of the new framework rather than focusing on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing fund.
“So those talks about the new fund, I think they’re only misleading, they’re not delivering any value so far,” he said.
European media also reported Thursday that French President Emmanuel Macron wrote to the European Union to say that a new fund was a “red line” for France.
Flora Mokgohloa, the deputy director general for biodiversity and conservation in South Africa, said the existing fund — which everyone at COP15 refers to as GEF — isn’t going to cut it.
“GEF is not adequate, and its provisions and demands are increasing,” she said.
She said there has been no real change in the standoff over the issue.
“We’re not hearing what the other side is offering, really,” she said. “And what the other side has said to us is what has always been there, and that has not worked and we have not met the right targets.”
The draft biodiversity framework includes four broad goals around protecting nature and sharing its benefits and 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 Canada’s marquee demand to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and marine areas by 2030, and the money.
The 30 per cent target is derived from a 2019 scientific analysis that suggested that is the bare minimum of what has to be protected. In 2020 a group of developed countries known as the High Ambition Coalition, of which Canada is a member, launched the 30 by 30 target as a goal for the next biodiversity framework.
Mokgohloa said the target isn’t clear enough about the quality of conservation that will qualify an area as protected, what activities can happen within those areas, and who has control.
“So it’s not about pushing numbers up to 30 per cent, it’s also about ensuring that these existing conservation areas and new conservation areas are able to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. So that for us is very, very critical,” she said.
Fiore Longo, a campaigner at the human rights organization Survival International, said she’s worried about what’s called “fortress conservation” — where protected areas like national parks are created and people are removed from the land.
“We have been campaigning for a long time against this dominant form of conservation,” Longo said.
She said the first national parks in the United States, Yellowstone and Yosemite, were “based on the idea that nature was beautiful, it was wild and Indigenous people were actually destroying it” — and Indigenous people were evicted from that land.
That concept was later imported to Africa and Asia, where parks like Kruger National Park in South Africa were created by also evicting Indigenous people.
“The entire concept of protected areas is based on the idea that local people don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a racist and colonialist idea,” she said.
She said evictions have often been followed by human rights abuses, eliminating access to traditional sources of food and medicinal plants, and park rangers that “beat, torture, rape and also kill” people who try to access their ancestral lands.
“This fortress is not a fortress for everyone,” Longo said. “While Indigenous people are evicted, tourists are welcome, so we have luxury hotels, all sorts of trophy hunting that are allowed in protected areas including extractive industries, because once the local population who really cares about this land are evicted, all other kinds of destructive industries are welcome.”
There is no agreement in the text on how and whether to include a definition of Indigenous land in the 30 by 30 target.
The Montreal talks began Dec. 6 and are supposed to end Monday.
-Mia Rabson, Morgan Lowrie and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press