Environmental groups and ministers have praised the ambition of the agreement, which also places emphasis on Indigenous rights
Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield in Montreal
Mon 19 Dec 2022 12.50 GMT; Last modified on Mon 19 Dec 2022 13.02 GMT
Ministers and environmental groups have praised the ambition of the historic 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.
But there were also concerns about the legitimacy of the deal after China appeared to force it through.
In the early hours of Monday, two weeks of UN biodiversity negotiations ended in confusion as China signed off on this decade’s targets for protecting nature despite an objection from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to the world’s second largest tropical forest.
There was widespread support for the final text, which included the targets of 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 in the final text 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 it is 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,” she said. “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. We double until 2025 and triple 2030 the finance for biodiversity.”
“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 30 by 30. Six months ago, who would have thought we could get 30 by 30 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 it had been agreed undemocratically by China. Some felt that this undermined 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, when asked about the dramatic conclusion and whether it threatened the legitimacy of the deal.
“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 implementation, whether countries who objected would agree to work and implement the CBD. This matters because the Congo basin – which DRC covers 60% of – is one of the key ecosystems that the 30 by 30 agreement will need to protect.
The plenary that began on Sunday evening and lasted for more than seven hours with an agreement reached at 3.30am local time after objections from some countries about finance. Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister, appeared to disregard objections from the DRC delegation, lowering the gavel and declaring the deal passed only minutes after they said they were not able to support it.
The 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, Uganda and DRC 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.”
A third of the Congo basin’s tropical forests are under threat from fossil fuel investments, which could unleash a “carbon bomb” into the atmosphere if plans go ahead, analysis suggests.
When speaking to journalists after the agreement, Guilbeault and the EU commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said they were not lawyers and so could not answer whether it would be legitimate to gavel the deal had DRC’s comments been a “formal objection”.
“I think the presidency acted within guidelines, rules and procedures of the United Nations,” said Guilbeault. “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”.
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”.