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Negotiators reach nature deal at COP15 despite objections from African countries

Deal calls for protection of at least 30 per cent of land and marine areas
Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada speaks to reporters at the COP15 the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Sunday, December 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A new global agreement to save nature from human destruction was passed overnight Monday at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal, despite objections from a number of African countries that accused the Chinese presidency of forcing a deal through against their objections.

The final deal calls for all 196 signatories of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to move by 2030 to conserve and protect at least 30 per cent of land and marine areas. It also calls for effective restoration to be underway of at least 30 per cent of all land, water and coastal regions that have already been damaged.

It also spells out the financing assistance expected from developed countries, private sector and philanthropic sources to help developing countries and small island developing states implement protections.

China’s environment minister, Huang Runqiu, lowered the gavel and declared the deal to be done around 3:30 a.m. in Montreal, prompting a standing ovation.

“This is a historic moment,” Huang said.

Shortly after the gavel dropped, Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the deal is “a bold step forward to protect nature.”

“To protect the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and for that, Mr. President, we are extremely grateful.”

But Huang’s gavel drop came minutes after the representative at the table from the Democratic Republic of Congo indicated his country couldn’t support the deal, largely over concerns about how the financing will work.

“The DRC is unable to support in its current state,” the country’s representative said through a translator.

That led to a number of other African delegates, including from Uganda and Cameroon, to object. Uganda’s representative accused Huang of a “coup d’état” against the biodiversity talks.

Cameroon’s delegate said Huang had “twisted the procedure” and pushed through the whole deal with ‘a force of hand.”

A legal adviser to the proceedings said because the DRC’s comments had not been a “formal objection,” there was nothing wrong with Huang declaring the deal passed prompting the DRC delegate to come back and say his objection was a formal one.

None of the objections appeared to matter in the moment, though there are concerns about what it could mean for implementation. The agreement is not legally binding, and any country can choose not to follow the targets if they don’t want to do so.

In a scrum with reporters following the passing, Guilbeault tried to downplay the African countries’ concerns, saying other global environment agreements have also had such objections.

Guilbeault said there is already outreach being made to the DRC about its concerns, but he said he doesn’t think there is a legal problem with how Huang handled it.

“I think the presidency acted within guidelines,” he said.

Other targets in the deal include cutting the risk of pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals in half, phasing out government subsidies that harm nature by more than C$700 billion a year by 2030, reducing the impact of invasive species, cutting down on food waste, and requiring big multinational companies and financial institutions to monitor and disclose how their operations affect nature.

The new agreement is titled the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, after the official host cities in China and Canada.

The deal was four years in the making. It was delayed four times because of COVID-19. The final negotiations ultimately moved from China to Montreal because of China’s ongoing pandemic restrictions.

The final agreement came after nearly two weeks of negotiations among 196 countries that are part of the UN biodiversity convention. They were seeking a new deal to halt the human destruction of nature and to begin restoring what has already been lost.

The United Nations says three-quarters of the world’s land has been altered by human activities and one million species face extinction this century as a result.

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