World governments strike historic deal to protect planet’s biodiversity

The pledge vows to protect 30 percent of the Earth's wilderness by 2030. But, it is an uphill climb.
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity on December 19, 2022. Photo by LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images

Early on Monday morning, delegates at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) reached a historic deal representing the most significant effort ever to protect the world’s dwindling biodiversity. It also provides funding in an effort to save and preserve biodiversity in lower-income countries.

The “30 by 30” deal was agreed upon by delegates from nearly 200 countries gathered in Montreal, Canada. The pledge vows to protect 30 percent of the Earth’s wild land and oceans by 2030. Currently, only 17 percent of terrestrial and 10 percent of marine areas are protected through legislation.

[Related: Why you can’t put a price on biodiversity.]

“We have in our hands on a package which I think can guide us as we all work together to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and put biodiversity on the path to recovery for the benefit of all people in the world,” Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu said to applause just before dawn on Monday. “We can be truly proud.”

However, the ambitious goals face a steep climb. Countries have fallen short of goals set in similar deals. A 2010 meeting in Japan was the last time this governing body set any major conservation targets, and they have not met any of them.

While the document includes reforms to subsidies that make fuel and food so inexpensive in some parts of the world, some environmental advocates want tougher language around those subsidies.

“The new text is a mixed bag,” Andrew Deutz, director of global policy, institutions and conservation finance for The Nature Conservancy, told the Associated Press. “It contains some strong signals on finance and biodiversity but it fails to advance beyond the targets of 10 years ago in terms of addressing drivers of biodiversity loss in productive sectors like agriculture, fisheries, and infrastructure and thus still risks being fully transformational.”

In addition to the 30 by 30 pledge, the deal aims to raise $200 billion by 2030 to preserve biodiversity. The financing package asks for increasing the money that goes to low-income countries in Africa, Asia, and South America by at least $20 billion per year by 2025 and by $30 billion annually by 2030.

The financing component of the deal was one of the more contentious issues. Countries home to most of the world’s rainforests and habitats wanted reassurances that money from donors and governments would help them better protect landscapes and police against illegal logging and poaching.

Colombia’s environmental minister Susana Muhamad emphasized that the agreement must, “align the resources and the ambitions.” Additionally, Democratic Republic of Congo environment minister Ève Bazaiba, told The Washington Post over the weekend her country is committed to the “30 by 30” goal, but that her government needs financial helps to protect the Congo Basin. “When it comes to fauna, we need to have the means to achieve this objective,” she said.

[Related: Here’s where biodiversity is disappearing the quickest in the US.]

Before the vote, Pierre du Plessis, a negotiator from Namibia who helped coordinate the African group, told the AP, “all the elements are in there for a balance of unhappiness which is the secret to achieving agreement in UN bodies. Everyone got a bit of what they wanted, not necessarily everything they wanted.”

Today, Canada’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault compared the 30 by 30 deal with the United Nations’ landmark 2015 Paris agreement, in which countries pledged to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally closer to 1.5C (2.7F). “It is truly a moment that will mark history as Paris did for climate,” Guilbeault said to reporters.

This deal was also over two years in the making. The final proceedings were originally scheduled for 2020 in Kunming, China, but were postponed and moved to Montreal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human beings are the driving force behind the planet’s dramatic loss of biodiversity. The forces of climate change, pollution, and habitat loss have threatened more than one million animal and plant species with extinction, a rate of loss that is 1,000 times greater than previously expected. Additionally, about 1 out of 5 people depend on 50,000 wild species for income and food.