While an agreement by global governments to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea area by 2030 would likely dub the Montreal negotiations a success, more is needed on how to address the drivers of biodiversity degradation, say experts, or risk condemning targets to empty promises.
“Unsustainable production and monstrous consumption habits are degrading our world,” the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told participants on Wednesday at the UN’s COP15 biodiversity negotiations.
“We need businesses and investors to put protection first in their business plans, and invest in sustainable production and extraction methods across every link of their supply chains,” he added.
Wednesday saw representatives from almost 200 governments join the negotiations in Montreal, which kicked off with various plenary and working group sessions. Civil society also blocked the streets through protests that lasted several hours.
A new working draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was released in the early hours of Wednesday, showcasing the various versions of targets that will need to be reconciled into agreed text by global delegates over the next two weeks.
The 30×30 target housed under Target 3 has been most heavily tracked, with some observers referring to the issue as equivalent to the 1.5C target under the Paris Agreement.
Contested text within Target 3 involves issues such as the global goal should be proportioned at the national level, what counts as “protection”, and whether protection should specifically target biologically rich areas.
But regardless of the outcome on these important details, some stakeholders argue that the 30×30 target could ring hollow without addressing the root causes of biodiversity and nature loss to begin with.
“We won’t hit 30×30 targets – in a way that is representative of the high-productivity biodiversity and climate zones – if we don’t change business as usual,” said Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of conservation organisation Canopy.
“We can do all the restoration and protection that we like, but if we don’t actually change the core drivers of deforestation, of forest degradation, of habitat destruction, then we are not going to stem the precipitous collapse of biodiversity that we’re currently experiencing,” she added.
That means fundamental changes to supply chain models, she said, including linear extraction methods currently employed in the industrial logging, industry, and fossil fuel sectors.
Some Indigenous groups have also spoken out against the 30×30 target, dubbing it a “false solution” to the biodiversity crisis.
Speakers at the Global Justice Ecology Project side event on Wednesday critisised the target as perpetuating business-as-usual trends, as well as risking land grabs at the expense of Indigenous and local communities.
During the event, they pointed out that many biodiversity rich areas currently support global Indigenous communities, and government conservation efforts could aggravate dispossession or land disputes.
Instead of 30×30, these groups argued for more fundamental changes to production and consumption patterns, following local knowledge of land dynamics, and new sources of funding to take the place of revenues from extractive industries.
“To be perfectly honest, for most Indigenous peoples they view this increased percentage ambition as a threat,” said one of the speakers at a parallel event at COP15 titled: inclusive and effective implementation of draft Target 3, lessons learnt from past country experiences.
“Because despite having ‘equity’ as an element in Target 3, experience has shown that there have been many Indigenous peoples displaced from these types of initiatives,” she added.
The groups said that the text must include Indigenous consent for the management and establishment of protected areas, and that governance of that area should community led.
“If one of the key goals of the text is to have humanity live in harmony with nature, it’s important to recognise that there are many Indigenous and other peoples that have already been living in harmony with nature for a very long time,” an observer at the session pointed out.
The draft GBF does address implementation of key targets through Targets 14-22 that are explicitly labelled “tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming”.
Of these, Target 14 mentions aligning public and private activities and financial flows to positive biodiversity outcomes, while Target 15 mentions limiting or requiring reporting of biodiversity impacts from companies on their supply chain activities.
However, these draft targets stop well short of spelling out the types of policies and requirements that would shift business as usual.
The EU’s recent ban on imported deforestation or Circular Economy Action Plan, for example, will be little discussed in Montreal, with no mentions of trade in the text and only one mention to “foster a circular economy” heavily bracketed.
Even “moving towards sustainable patterns of production” under Target 15, the only target where this is mentioned, remains heavily bracketed.
“Nature must be mainstreamed, incorporated in decisions made for the landscapes in which we live and work every day, well beyond protected areas,” Sandra Diaz, professor of ecology at the National University of Cordoba wrote in the scientific journal Nature last week.
“Most crucially, targets must focus on the root causes of biodiversity loss: the ways in which we consume, trade, and allocate subsidies, incentives, and safeguards,” she added.
Negotiations on Target 3 are expected to begin Thursday afternoon.
By Katherine Monahan – firstname.lastname@example.org