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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield in Montreal

‘Crucial’ Cop15 deal includes target to protect 30% of nature on Earth by 2030

Cop15 deal is passed in Montreal, Canada. From left, David Ainsworth, Huang Runqiu, Elizabeth Mrema and Inger Andersen.
Cop15 deal is passed in Montreal, Canada. From left, David Ainsworth, Huang Runqiu, Elizabeth Mrema and Inger Andersen. Photograph: Julian Haber/Courtesy of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Ministers and environmental groups have praised the ambition of the deal reached at Cop15, which includes a target to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade and places emphasis on Indigenous rights.

There was widespread support for the final text put forward after two weeks of UN biodiversity negotiations to agree this decade’s targets for protecting nature, which included protecting 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reforming $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and taking urgent action on extinctions.

“The global ambition agreed at Cop15 to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 is vital if we are to bring our planet back from the brink,” said Mike Barrett, the executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK. “The tripling of international finance for developing countries, conservation targets to halt species extinction, and the rights of Indigenous peoples being placed front and centre are crucial cornerstones of the deal.”

Others praised the emphasis on the rights and territories of Indigenous people who, despite their outsized contribution to protecting nature, often face threats of violence and rights violations.

“Now they are recognising that Indigenous people can also make contributions to biodiversity conservation,” said Viviana Figueroa, a representative of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB). “For us, it’s like a change of paradigm. They are recognising this important role that was invisible.”

Christophe Béchu, France’s minister for ecological transition, who headed its delegation, called it a “historic deal”. He said: “It’s not a small deal. It’s a deal with very precise and quantified objectives on pesticides, on reduction of loss of species, on eliminating bad subsidies.”

“Many of us wanted more things in the text and more ambition but we got an ambitious package,” said Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault. “We have 30x30. Six months ago, who would have thought we could get 30x30 in Montreal? We have an agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to work on restoration, to reduce the use of pesticides. This is tremendous progress.”

But despite the praise, the UN conference ended in high drama after a number of countries complained the agreement had been pushed through undemocratically by China. Some felt that this could undermine the agreement, which is not legally binding and relies on goodwill and trust between countries – including many in Africa, home to some of the planet’s richest remaining ecosystems.

“Legally, it’s done. Morally, what can I say? It’s over,” said Lee White, Gabon’s environment minister, as he left the Palais des congrès at the end of talks.

“I’ve spent three years of my life on this process and I’m as pissed off as anybody. It shouldn’t be like that. China has pissed it all away,” said one negotiator, who said he had concerns about whether countries who objected would agree to work and implement the CBD. This matters because the Congo basin – which covers roughly 60% of the DRC – is one of the key ecosystems that the 30x30 agreement will need to protect.

At the plenary, which lasted for more than seven hours with an agreement reached at 3.30am local time, Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister, appeared to disregard objections from the Democratic Republic of the Congo delegation, lowering the gavel and declaring the deal passed only minutes after they said they were not able to support it.

Comments from DRC about the responsibility of developed nations to fund conservation in developing countries were not considered a “formal objection” because he did not use those specific words, despite saying he did not support the agreement, the secretariat said.

“It was on the margins,” said Pierre du Plessis, the negotiator for Namibia. “But he didn’t officially object to the adoption.”

After the official agreement, the DRC negotiator spoke again, saying he had made a “formal objection”. This was followed by negotiators from Cameroon and Uganda expressing incredulity that the agreement had been put through. A representative from Cameroon said through an interpreter: “What we saw was a force of hand.”

Speaking to journalists after the agreement, Guilbeault said: “I think the presidency acted within the guidelines, rules and procedures of the United Nations. Some of my colleagues have started reaching out to DRC in hopes that we can find ways that we can work together moving forward.” He said claims the agreement was fraudulent were “clearly not accurate”.

The EU commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “This is a question for the presidency and secretariat – we saw that they were deciding something, they were discussing something and then suddenly the decision was taken.”

He added: “The main message is that we can reach Paris because we have a Montreal moment.”

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