From restoring nature to sharing new disease information, the biodiversity agreement being negotiated at Cop15 in Montreal over the next two weeks covers a wide range of issues. Pollution, human-wildlife conflict and soil health are among the topics of discussion as 193 governments battle over the “fate of the living world” in the negotiation rooms, side rooms and hallways of the Palais des Congrès.
These are the main objectives that could constitute the final agreement, known as the post-2020 biodiversity framework, which is due to be finalized on December 19. As always, everything could change in the final hours of negotiations. The final text will not be legally binding although the objectives of the UN Biological Convention are, so it will have significant teeth.
Protect the Earth – More than 100 countries support a proposal to conserve at least 30% of land and oceans by the end of the decade. It is inspired by Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson’s half-earth theory, which advocates protecting half the planet for the long-term survival of humanity. The United Kingdom, France and Costa Rica lead the coalition of countries supporting it, and co-organizers Canada have thrown their political weight behind it. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said it could be “the 1.5°C biodiversity target”. But he faces significant backlash from some indigenous communities, who warn he could justify land grabbing and human rights abuses.
pesticides – From Germany to Puerto Rico, insect populations are plummeting. Extensive use of pesticides designed to kill insect life – which are essential to healthy ecosystems everywhere – has been blamed by scientists. A target of reducing the use of pesticides by at least two thirds is on the table at COP15. The EU has said it will aim for a 50% reduction by the end of the decade, but a global target would face a major pushback from agricultural producers. The Soil Association says any deal that doesn’t include pesticides won’t be enough. The organization’s agriculture chief, Gareth Morgan, said: “The UN biodiversity summit will be a cop-out if world leaders fail to end the pesticide treadmill. The catastrophic collapse of wildlife populations cannot be reversed in a world that has not committed to phasing out these toxic chemicals.
Prevent extinctions – Several clauses on the protection of the million species that are estimated to be threatened with extinction by human behavior have been proposed in the Cop15 agreement, but behind the scenes some countries do not want to mention them at all.
Government grants – Every year, the world spends about $1.8 billion on subsidies leading to wildlife annihilation and increased global warming. From tax breaks for clearing the Amazon for beef to financial support for groundwater extraction in the Middle East, huge sums are being spent by governments on environmentally harmful policies. Sometimes there are good reasons to do so, such as preventing poverty, but many countries want to include a target to cut or reallocate at least $500bn (£409bn) a year from by 2025. Some countries oppose this goal because, according to them, the subsidies are often difficult to identify.
plastic pollution – In March, world leaders agreed to craft a legally binding treaty on the plastic waste that fills Earth’s oceans and rivers and clogs the stomachs of whales, sharks and fish. The first round of talks ended last week in Uruguay on the wording of the eventual text, which will cover the full life cycle of plastics, from production to disposal. To avoid duplication, any goals agreed at COP15 will almost certainly carry over to the current treaty.
Invasive species – The spread of alien animals and plants that invade and destroy ecosystems is a costly problem. Rabbits, Japanese knotweed, and wild pigs are just a few examples of species that have been spread by humans into areas they shouldn’t be, causing havoc. Next year, world experts will publish a major scientific assessment of the scale of the problem. In Montreal, a draft objective proposes to redouble efforts to eliminate invasive species and reduce their spread by half. Hunting them can have transformative effects, especially on islands. The elimination of rats and goats has transformed some islands, like Redonda in the Caribbean, from barren gray rock into a green island once again.
nature restoration – In addition to expanding protected areas, a goal of restoring at least 1 billion hectares (2.47 billion acres) of degraded terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems has been proposed, roughly the size of China. Reseeding, restoring and revitalizing an area of this size could have significant biodiversity and climate benefits.
Remarkable Flash Points – The latest draft includes proposals from groups of countries that could be eliminated from the final agreement in the final days. A target on wildlife management currently refers to “sustainable trophy hunting”, which enjoys strong support from Southern African states. “Mother Earthis referenced 16 times in the latest draft and is a proposal from Bolivia, referencing the Inca belief system of Pachamama, which is intended as a challenge to Western belief systems about nature. Reduce human-wildlife conflictnow the main threat to species such as the African savannah elephant is also in the text.