Government, International, USA

Biodiversity deal at United Nations

You could be forgiven for thinking the UN can’t count. Didn’t we just have COP27? Now COP15? Yeah, it’s confusing but the Conference of the Parties (that’s what COP stands for) meetings were for different topics, the former on climate change and the latter on biodiversity which just wrapped up after an exhausting two weeks in Montreal.

After more than four years of negotiations, repeated delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic and talks into the night on Sunday in Montreal, nearly 200 countries – but not the US or the Vatican – signed an agreement at the biodiversity Cop15, which was co-hosted by Canada and China, to put humanity on a path to living in harmony with nature by the middle of the century.

What is in the agreement?

Some African countries were unhappy that a separate fund wasn’t set up to help pay for it all. In a nutshell, here’s what was agreed to:

  • Protect 30 percent of land and oceans by the end of this decade.
  • Indigenous rights and conservation models should be a centerpiece.
  • Eliminate the perverse subsidies that encourage companies to destroy the environment
  • Large and transnational businesses must disclose their impacts and dependency on biodiversity
  • Places that have provided genetic information that becomes digitized will benefit financially.
  • Read more here.

The deal was negotiated over two weeks and includes targets to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reform $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and restore 30% of the planet’s degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems.

Why was the US a wallflower in these negotiations?

The deal was largely pushed through by China and Europe. The US was sidelined because Congress hasn’t yet ratified an earlier biodiversity treaty, the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). It was the result of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, providing for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.” Learn more.

Bill Clinton signed the CBD treaty on the US’s behalf in 1993, but the Senate refused to ratify it. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot has criticised the US for not being a party to the convention, saying it provides other countries with a permanent excuse to participate in name only. But it is not expected to join any time soon, as international treaties need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

But the Biden administration has at least come out in favor of 30×30.

The main issue the US has been outspoken about is the headline target of 30×30, protecting 30% of the land and oceans by 2030, which it is pushing domestically as part of its America the Beautiful initiative. “We are very much a member of the community on this planet that cares about the 30×30 framework. We have made this commitment domestically as well as globally,” Medina told delegates at Cop15. Campaign posters around the conference centre promoting 30×30 are sponsored by the US-based Wyss Foundation.