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COP15: Almost 200 countries at the Montreal biodiversity conference

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MONTREAL –

Representatives from nearly 200 countries will begin the real work on Wednesday at a crucial meeting on global biodiversity: tough talks about tough targets to save enough of the world’s ecosystems to keep the planet going.

“We need governments to develop ambitious national action plans that protect and preserve our natural gifts and put our planet on the path of healing,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as the meetings began.

Observers say they are optimistic that the 196 countries at the COP15 meeting in Montreal can agree that nearly a third of Earth’s land and water should be under some form of protection by 2030.

“There is a lot of support for it,” said Stephen Woodley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a high-profile group of governments and civil society organizations that advise conference delegates.

“I think there’s really significant support for the 30 percent in quality areas.”

The 30 percent goal is the result of years of scientific study and consensus.

“Scientists have studied this for years and years, and we know with a lot of evidence that 30 percent is the lower limit,” said Aerin Jacob of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The momentum toward that goal has been building for years. It has been endorsed by the G7 industrialized countries and is supported by 112 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, including Canada.

Other important objectives include helping to finance the promotion of biodiversity in developing countries.

“We need developed countries to provide significant financial support to countries in the Global South as custodians of the world’s natural wealth after centuries of exploitation and loss,” Guterres said.

Estimates of how much money is needed vary widely, from about $200 billion a year to more than $700 billion.

“Much remains to be done. The text on conservation goals that delegates are discussing has more brackets than the agreed wording.

“We’ve made some progress,” Woodley said. “It’s hard to sleigh.”

Part of the disputed text refers to indigenous peoples.

“There is a significant group that wants to make sure that protecting 30 percent of the Earth is not negative for indigenous peoples or community-owned lands,” Woodley said. “It certainly has been in the past, in some cases.”

Others want to make sure that the areas that are conserved actually contribute to saving species, promoting ecosystem function, protecting against floods or wildfires, or storing carbon.

“Those are all value judgments,” Jacob said.

“I would say we need to guard against all of those things. We don’t get to choose.”

Other issues that need to be resolved include what constitutes protection. It doesn’t have to be a park. It could be what are known as “other effective area-based conservation measures”, known in COP jargon as OECM.

The Vancouver Basin, managed to ensure water quality, is an OECM. The same goes for the wildlife-rich Manitoba Canadian Forces Base, Shiloh.

Private groups or land trusts will protect some land. Others will be conserved by indigenous management, an approach Canada is increasingly relying on.

Woodley’s group recognizes seven different types of conservation areas, some allowing limited resource extraction, with four different governance models.

In developed countries where natural areas are few and small, efforts will focus on restoration.

“There are so many solutions,” Jacob said. “It’s about making sure those things can survive and thrive.”

And a lot will depend on how any plan is implemented. Discussions on finances will begin later this week.

“An agreement without any action will not help us protect life on the planet,” Jacob said.

But both she and Woodley agree that some kind of agreement on conservation goals is likely.

“We absolutely have to do this,” Jacob said.

“It’s not a no-deal issue. It’s more a matter of what the deal will look like.”


This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 7, 2020.


— By Bob Weber in Edmonton

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