Still no major progress toward 'peace pact with nature' at COP15

Still no major progress toward 'peace pact with nature' at COP15

Delegates attend the COP15 negotiations on nature and biodiversity in Montreal on Monday.
Delegates attend the COP15 negotiations on nature and biodiversity in Montreal on Monday.

MONTREAL: The world had just eight days to seal a historic deal to stem the destruction of nature.

But half way into the COP15 biodiversity talks, there has been no major progress either on increased funding for conservation in developing nations, or towards a pledge to protect 30% of the world's land and seas.

The general view is that negotiations will get tough on Thursday, when the environment ministers of the 196 members of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will take over from their delegates in Montreal.

But the chances of ending on Dec 19 with agreement for an ambitious "peace pact with nature" -- 20 objectives to stop the destruction of water, forests and living things by the end of the decade -- will be undermined if the draft agreement remains as it is now.

Despite long hours put in by the 5,000 delegates since Dec 3, the text is far behind schedule, weighed down by dozens of points still under negotiation.

Only five of the 22 or 23 objectives envisaged have been settled.

"Governments are making progress, but not fast enough to prepare a clean text for the arrival of ministers," said Alfred DeGemmis, a senior official at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Time is running out: a million species are threatened with extinction, a third of all land is severely degraded, soil fertility and water purity are compromised, and oceans are threatened by pollution and climate change.

"We are still a long way away. But we are seeing flashes of light at the end of the tunnel," said Marco Lambertini, the head of WWF international, adding that he had observed a "much more constructive engagement" since the start of the talks.

"We see a market emerging where the countries of the South say that they will not agree to commit to strong ambitions without seeing corresponding funding," said Sebastien Treyer, director general of the think tank IDDRI.

Brazil on Saturday reiterated, on behalf of the African continent and 14 other countries including India and Indonesia, their demand for "financial subsidies of at least $100 billion per year or one percent of world GDP until 2030."

- Global Biodiversity Fund -

That increase is deemed unrealistic by rich countries, whose aid earmarked for biodiversity in 2020 amounted to $10 billion.

"If today we are at 10 billion, talking about 100 billion all of a sudden paralyzes the conversation," warned the French envoy to COP15, Sylvie Lemmet, since rich countries have kept to their commitment to double aid development over the previous decade.

The European Union also opposes creation of a new global biodiversity fund, something being called for by several countries at the COP16 in 2024 in Turkey.

That is a solution which the North deems ineffective, preferring instead to push for a reform of global finance, both in the public and private sectors, and a better use of national resources.

They have also argued for the reduction of negative subsidies that adversely affect nature, such as fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture, something which has been the subject of lively debates with farming powerhouses Brazil and Argentina.

While not part of the negotiation, the United States -- which has not ratified the Convention on Biodiversity -- plays a crucial role in the financial equation likely to unblock any agreement.

"We did replenish the Global Environment Facility this year, the US contribution was bigger than it had ever been," US environment ambassador Monica Medina said Monday.

Looking to remove obstacles, all eyes have turned toward China, which is president of the COP15, but which is considered to be too "wait-and-see" or "passive" by many here.

That criticism was brushed aside by the French ambassador, who lauded a "very involved Chinese presidency" that is "listening to the parties" and which "commits bilaterally."

On Monday, negotiators resumed talks behind closed doors.

"The progress is encouraging"," CBD chief Elizabeth Mrema said, but warned that negotiations remain "a bumpy road".

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